Something Worth The Reading

Regularly in a tree just behind our rear fence at our house here in Hertfordshire (about 30 minutes north of London), we see a pair of tiny birds – possibly flycatchers. They appear to have lived there for all the time we’ve been in this house. (It is about two and a half years now.) The other day, very early, I decided to snap one:

[Bird in a tree. Photo by me, Thursday morning, January 17, 2019. Photo by me.]

My wife likes to say: “That’s your mum, keeping an eye on you again…”

In early 2012, after thinking about it on and off for years, I began seriously to consider writing a book. It was going to be one and done (it would sell a dozen or so copies – probably mostly to friends and family – and I would have proved to myself I could write a novel much as my uncle did); I would afterwards just disappear. As I explained in an earlier post, the general subject matter hit me in one of those “Ah, ha!” moments in life.

I also vaguely recall remembering a Benjamin Franklin – scientist, philosopher, journalist, diplomat and more – quote on writing. We tend to forget today. Until he was surpassed by George Washington (who led the U.S. military to victory in the war for independence – 1775-83 – and in 1789 became first U.S. president), Franklin had been probably the most famous American in the world.

[Excerpt from Conventions: The Garden At Paris, on Kindle for iPhone/iPad. Click to expand.]

The other day, I searched Franklin’s famous Autobiography. That quote does not seem to appear in it. I haven’t sought further to look to track down the original, and mistrusting the internet on, say, Thomas Jefferson quotes – many of those passed around as “his” are actually altered greatly or even outright fabrications – I decided to be uber-cautious here and cite this is attributed to Dr. Franklin:

[“Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.” Attributed to Benjamin Franklin.]

Those years ago, about the same time, I also stumbled on a current day book agent or editor (I don’t recall now which exactly) who had written an article on a recent rush of memoirs by relatively “ordinary” people. (Unfortunately, I didn’t save it or a link.) The trend made him groan, he wrote. Why?

We see this a lot in social media. It is a “truism” that is now at the point of being deemed “a rule.” I saw it again on Instagram just a few days ago:

[From Instagram.]

That agent/editor argued that unless you are, say, Nelson Mandela (who was still alive at the time; or we might note as well, a Benjamin Franklin), chances are your life is simply not worth an autobiography. Your story you may want to tell is, well, frankly not all that important. To be honest, he asserted, no one out there really cares about your life because you have not done anything truly world-changing and thus worth reading about… especially not over a lifetime.

But he did have this suggestion: write instead a fictional memoir/autobiography utilizing those happenings here and there in your life that may be of some “outsized” wider reading interest, fill it out with imagination, and aim ultimately to produce a good overall story. If you do that, he felt, you may have then got something perhaps worth reading.

Because it makes perfect sense, I try never to forget that:

[Excerpt from Passports: Atlantic Lives, 1994-1995, on Kindle for iPhone/iPad. Click to expand.]

In another (and less common) position: that “crazy brother,” my now late uncle was… yes, my uncle. However, he, as a novelist and a “public figure,” was also something of a real-life character in his own right. Meaning often he does not need much fictional embellishment:

[Excerpt from Passports: Atlantic Lives, 1994-1995, on Kindle for iPhone/iPad. Click to expand.]

He and I once had virtually that exact conversation in his kitchen. In other words, as he once also told me: “Fiction comes from fact, and lots of fact makes great fiction when you re-write it as fiction.” Whatever anyone’s opinion of that as “great,” just “good,” or uh, huh, I also had “him” say that verbatim in another novel because I thought it was also an observation worth being read by anyone.

Or, if, after her death, you also want to pay a sort of novelistic tribute to your recently deceased mother…

[Sneak peek from Tomorrow The Grace. Click to expand.]

…you perhaps fictionalize her in New York’s remote Catskill Mountains in “1787,” exaggerate her personality traits somewhat (but within reason), and place her within the social context of that early American independence time, so those who never knew the real her when she lived might find “her” far more worth reading about. 🙂

Because if you as a person aren’t going to be able to “change the world” through your actions, thus enabling you to write about it after the fact and have readers eager to read what you write because of what you have done, the goal must instead be to write something worth reading. Simply having a story to tell is not enough. That story has to be interesting to readers, and those characters must be compelling to those who never met those people and naturally have no idea who they are/were.

Sitting here this morning and now thinking about that current book I’m working on (and about to get back into it again), I suppose I have come a very long way from 2012’s idea I’d had of one [book] and done.

Have a good Monday, wherever you are. 🙂