I spied with my little eye at least three reasons for baulking at the prospect of writing a self-help book. When I wondered why I’d been so slow to get started on my current book (Life is long: my boot camp for the bonus years) I figured that the genre was one reason for getting writer’s block.
Let’s examine my reservations. Do they make any sense at all to you?
- Type of book. The book might turn into a self-help book, which holds many dangers such as being bossy and being smug.
- Selfishness. Self-help books are for the privileged, a self-indulgent form.
- Narrowness. Self-help books ignore powerful social forces that oppress the majority of people.
The first charge is personal and particular. It says more about me than the self-help genre. After all, I’ve written books about writers and a fun guide to “Real Writing”. In my working life I’ve written manuals on corporate writing, plain language, global English and especially writing for the web. The manuals are openly instructional. I tell you what to do and how to do it. That’s perfectly appropriate for business skills of this type.
But no way would I want take that tone when it comes to something as personal as preparing yourself for a long life and old age! Sure, I do have much to share after paying close attention to these issues in my own life and putting myself through a solitary twelve-month, twelve-task programme. But—there are many good ways to be old and you must live your own life in your own way.
OK, there’s an obvious anomaly here. I chose a carefully structured programme, treating it like a formal project complete with purpose, scope, timeline, budget, methods, documentation and evaluation. That’s ridiculous, right? It happened to work rather brilliantly for me, but I’m me and you’re you.
The potential selfishness and narrow focus of a self-help book were also on my mind. Anyone who has the energy and motivation to read a book like this is by definition, like me, comparatively privileged. Also, such a book risks presuming that a happy, healthy old age is within the reach of everyone, a purely individual aim. It risks implying that if I can do this, so can anyone. Perhaps even now you are bristling and thinking, “How about my brilliant, sporty, happy, sociable, healthy friend who got demential at 50? He never had a chance. How about my cousin who got Multiple Sclerosis at 36? And the homeless and mentally ill and refugees and unemployed?” See what I mean?
Well, these are my personal reservations and they certainly were holding me back. A stark lack of logic is staring us in the face, I know that. One book can never be useful for all of humanity. That does not negate the good that it can do for its target audience.
To let these imaginary problems stop me from writing was being too precious by far. I’m laughing at myself now because I’ve committed the kind of pecadillo more common in a beginner-writer. How many times has a new poet told me they’re worried someone will steal their very first poem? (Heaps.) I’m polite but I’m thinking, “In your dreams, darling!” Now I’m doing something perilously close: over-estimating the importance of my book and overthinking the potential consequences.
Still, somehow it helps to tease out imaginary problems and put them under a microscope. When they are exposed, these finickity ideas, we can see them clearly. Then we can either accept them as legitimate and quit pretending that we’re going to write that book, or see them as all-in-the-mind scenarios and—write the damn book.
By the way, you might want to consider these same issues in relation to blogging. My writer’s block was exacerbated by a trend for young bloggers to see their role as a life coach. As a writer, I do want feedback from writers I trust and respect, but not unsolicited advice from strangers. Isn’t it the same with lifestyle advice? I don’t know: do you?