So you’re writing a book, or getting ready to. Just any book? Or do you want to write a book with the power to change lives?
A homeless single woman experienced such deep shame and desperation over being pregnant that she fell into depression. She decided the only solution was to end her life once the baby was born. Her friends, also homeless and having no better solutions to offer her, agreed they would take the baby to the authorities to find a home for it.
One cold winder day, the woman and her friends took refuge in the local library, their only refuge from the weather. Knowing she would be allowed to stay there only if she were reading, she picked up a book off a table.
She opened the book to a story about a boy who saw a sign advertising puppies for sale. When he asked how much they cost, the man told him they were selling for fifteen to twenty dollars, depending on which one. The boy said he had just a few dollars, but he’d make weekly payments. The man asked which one he wanted, and he pointed to one with a limp.
The man did his best to discourage him, telling him the pup wouldn’t be much fun, that he wouldn’t be able to run and play like the other pups. But the boy was adamant. He wanted that particular pup! Finally, he bent down and rolled up his pants, revealing a leg brace. “I have to have that pup,” he said, “because with him I’m always gonna know I have a friend who understands how I feel.”
Hearing this story, the woman was so touched that tears ran down her face. If a boy could love an imperfect puppy, she realized, then there might be someone out there who could love an imperfect woman, even a homeless woman about to have a baby out of wedlock. She walked to the mental health center, went back onto her meds, and turned her life around. Within a short time she had found a job, and before the year was out she had bought a home and started a foundation to feed the homeless and help them become self-sufficient.
Canfield had no way of knowing any of that would happen. And it wouldn’t have, had he and his partners not written the book she picked up that cold, wintry day in the library.
What If You Could Have That Kind of Impact?
Maybe you think you’ll never write a book as popular as Chicken Soup for the Soul.
But how can you know?
You’re reading this post now because you know there’s a book in you. Whether that book will be born of your own personal experience or someone else’s, whether it’s a memoir or a novel or a how-to book or a book to boost your business success, that book is a yet unborn expression of your mind and heart that may make a big difference for someone.
Consider this: Even if no one ever reads it, writing it will change your life by the very fact that you will have given expression to something about which you care deeply.
What Motivates Authors to Write?
Ultimately, every authentic author writes to self-express. And well they should. Sure, you could live your whole life hiding your wisdom, your stories, your spirit. But who would that benefit?
There are more reasons for deciding to write a book than I can enumerate. Maybe you’ve always known you’d end up being a writer. Or maybe others keep saying you should write a book. Perhaps you want to leave a legacy, something for others to remember you by. Your wisdom may be just what others need to move them forward.
Note that in the first paragraph of this section, I said, “every authentic author writes to self-express.” My prejudice is showing! Books are published every day by people I don’t consider authentic authors.
Why? Let me answer that with a (highly abridged) story: My sister and brother-in-law adopted a baby boy. The kid put them through all kinds of moves in his teenage and early adult years, including the time he was arrested for drug use. But they loved him and committed to giving him a chance to fulfill his potential. So they hung in there, took care of him, disciplined him when he needed it, and raised him to be the exceptional man he is today.
Steve’s biological parents, whoever they may be, are his real parents in that sense only. My sister is his real mom and her husband, his real dad. End of story. And what makes that so? Heart. It goes beyond love. Heart also means inspiration, dedication, the courage and determination to get it right.
If you have the inspiration, the dedication, the courage, and the determination to get a book out there that was birthed in your heart, to my mind that makes you authentic, no matter whether you pen the final draft or hire a ghostwriter. If you throw your book together to get a product out, you’re just a hack.
Can you be an authentic author and still write your book to get a product out? Sure. There’s nothing wrong with writing a book with marketing in mind. The question is, how much of yourself are you willing to invest in the writing?
My team and I have helped hundreds of authentic authors get their books out. Each had their own reasons for writing, and sometimes reasons they weren’t even aware of until the process was well on its way. I’ve chosen a few of them to illustrate the wide range of motivations for writing a book:
To Educate or Offer a Different Viewpoint
Betty Brink grew up thinking of herself as fat. She tried every diet she could find, but no matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t slim down. Dieting just made her hungry! Eventually, she found the emotional strength to accept and even celebrate herself as she is and abandoned the struggle.
She wrote her book, The Main Meal: The New Perspective on Weight Loss, to empower others—especially women—who were not born to be reedy-thin to discover their own perfection. The title of her first chapter says it all: “If you think it’s about the food, you’ve missed the main meal.”
Rod Bearcloud Berry, a Native American visual artist of the Osage (Woo-sha-shee) Nation, sees the world from his own unique perspective. Steeped in Native American symbolism and fascinated with the geometry of pyramids and crop circles, he wrote his beautiful book, 7 Fires, to introduce readers to their shared geometric features and to the possibility that these shared features are not mere coincidence.
Robert Raming wrote War and Death of the American Dream to educate readers about the largely concealed history underlying the current state of affairs in the American political and socioeconomic arenas.
Pat Holly, a retired Registered Nurse, penned A Nurse’s Journey to the Fountain of Youth to educate women about the importance of hormone therapy as an anti-aging tool.
The life of an immigrant is often fraught with difficulties never faced by those who stay put where they were born. On the other hand, immigrants may enjoy opportunities unavailable to others. Ruth Douglass wrote Triumph of Dreams (also published in Spanish, as Triunfo de los Sueños) to tell her own story as an immigrant with the goal of inspiring others to immigrate legally and to seek out the hidden opportunities that can make their lives exemplary.
Lily Birmingham wrote her children’s book, The Adventures of Fearless Girls, using the story of her own childhood to inspire young girls to step forward into the realm of adventure.
Linda Savolainen LeVier (Laughing Hearts: My Joy-Filled Heart Transplant Journey) and Donaldo Kochackis (Prostate Cancer and Me) wrote the stories of their medical journeys to inspire others to heal with humor and laughter and to take positive steps toward making this a better world.
No Nude Swimming, Robert Gottlieb’s novel about breaking out of the legal profession, was written to entertain. The book was one of three finalists in the Humorous Fiction category of the Global eBook Awards and has been rewritten as a television series. Robert’s other books (in progress) draw on his Jewish family history to entertain and inspire readers.
Jay Britto wrote The World’s Richest Busboy, chronicling his own experiences surfing around the world, to entertain.
Doug Drago wrote two books to entertain children of all ages: The Adventures of Neanderthal Ned and Megan’s Big Birthday.
Against All Odds is Doris Hayes’s highly engaging biographical novel, in which she recounts the story of her friend who married a priest and of their trials in gaining absolution from the Catholic Church.
To Boost Business Success
One of my clients wrote a revealing book on the use of art therapy in a senior residence that she then used to motivate other senior homes to include this therapeutic approach in their patient care programs.
Michael Wolf wrote The First Time Home Buyer Book to help those new to the home buying game, but in the process he created a book that has served him well as a lead generator and trust builder. He has since written at least one other business-boosting book, The First Time Home Investor Book.
Simply to Self-Express
TC Townsend’s Imagine … The Rock ‘N’ Roll Party In Coalition with The Worldwide Fair Play for Frogs Committee is a delightful memoir of the ‘80s, packed with thought-provoking material that is still pertinent today. But knowing TC, I believe he wrote it primarily to celebrate himself and some people he loved. And he paid quite a price for the celebration—the book needed a lot of editing, and it cost him dearly. (I hadn’t yet discovered a tool I recommend these days to all my students, Pro Writing Aid Writing Software. It’s the best self-editing tool I’ve seen, and can save you a lot on editing. They offer a free trial.)
Janet Eileene wrote Whisper of the Universe to tell stories that grew out of her own experiences of an alternate reality.
So there you have it—plenty of reasons for writing and publishing the book in your heart. What’s your reason? It may be one or more of those listed above, or it may be something entirely unique to you. (Don’t be surprised if as you write you come to realize there were reasons you weren’t even aware of when you started out.)
One last word on this: If you’re thinking of writing a book to finance your retirement or bring in the money you need to make some other dream come true, think again. Yes, you may make money with your book. If you’re industrious and lucky and your timing is right, you may even make enough to turn a profit after covering the expenses involved. But the likelihood your book will make you big dollars is slim to none.
Sure, some authors manage it. A single book isn’t likely to do it for you. But if you write several books a year, it’s not at all farfetched to imagine that in just a few years you’ll build the momentum to pay for your life. If you’re willing to put in the energy required to promote your books well, there’s no reason you can’t sell multiple thousands of copies.
That said, unless you’re planning a writing career, the truest wealth that will accrue to you from your book will be the joy of knowing it made a positive difference for your readers. Let enrichment of the heart be your highest expectation. Then, if your book becomes wildly popular and you make a mint from it, consider that gravy.
The one exception would be if you’re writing a book to boost your business. It may not be the book itself that makes you money, however. Many a business-boosting book has turned out to be a net financial loss and still contributed as nothing else could to the success of the business.
Your Book Will Change You—For the Better
There are so many ways to get your book written that you really have no excuse for cheating yourself out of the authoring experience. At the start of this chapter, I shared some of our clients’ reasons for writing.
Now, let me share with you some benefits you’ll enjoy as a published author. No matter what kind of book you author or how you get it written, or how many people end up reading it, writing your book will:
Give you the satisfaction of knowing you’ve done something likely to benefit others.
Build your self-confidence and self-respect. Even today, with technology making it easier than ever to write and publish, becoming a published author is something only a very small percentage of humans will ever achieve.
Move you to develop better work habits, including the self-discipline to prioritize and make efficient use of your time and energy.
Diminish any fear you may have of taking on large projects. Having learned the skill of breaking large projects into bite-sized tasks, you’ll find it easier to maintain a can-do attitude when faced with other large projects.
Authorship = Authority. Once you become a published author, people will look at you differently. It sets you up as an instant indisputable authority, the go-to person in your area of expertise.
No matter what kind of book you’re writing, I suspect you’d like for it to make a difference in readers’ lives. Am I right? The key to achieving that is to have meaningful content you really care about.
Passion isn’t everything, but it’s the energy behind everything. In the words of Steve Jobs, “You have to be burning with an idea, or a problem, or a wrong you want to right. If you’re not passionate enough from the start, you’ll never stick it out.”
Nowhere is that more true than in writing a book. If you’ve heard that it’s best to write what you know, consider this: What if you’re bored with what you know? Who will want to listen to what you have to say about it? Yet if you hold what you know close to your heart, the stories you tell may inspire the next new thought wave.
It might be that you’re really excited about some new topic on which you’re not an expert. Could you write a worthy nonfiction book about it? Sure. There’s no rule that says you have to be the expert. You just have to provide expertise. You could interview several experts and use those interviews as the basis for the book.
One last word (for now) about writing the book in your heart: It takes passion to stay the course. If your heart’s not in it, how long are you going to stick with the project? People who start projects because they think they should, rather than out of passion, tend to accumulate a backlog of unfinished works. How many uncompleted projects are sitting in your metaphorical attic gathering dust? Let’s not add one more.
But—Shouldn’t You Write for the Market?
Sure, you’re probably thinking, it’s good to write a book from your heart, but what if no one wants to read about the topic you’re passionate about? Wouldn’t it make sense to research what’s selling and write that? As an author, you often walk a fine line between what the market wants and what your heart wants. If the market truly has no interest in your topic, your book won’t find a readership and won’t do anyone any good.
I too have grappled with this issue. Having studied online business under two powerful mentors, I’d make more money if I could focus on teaching Internet marketing. But I can’t. I tried—for five years! I finally realized I’d never be able to stick with it because my primary passion is language and helping people use it effectively. That’s what I’m hard-wired to do. Yes, I know marketing, and I’ll be happy to guide you as you build your authoring business. But not at the expense of sacrificing my main love.
If you start from what the market wants, you’ may never get to what’s in your heart. So start with what’s important to you, and find the fit with the market. That’s the secret to maximizing the number of lives your book (or books) can change.
Toasting Your Writing Magic,
Chiwah Slater, Best-Selling Author
PS — Having been a writer all my life, I’ve published several books, including a best seller. I’ve published and edited two magazines, edited scores of books, and mentored more new authors than I can recall. Even so, I appreciate a good writer’s aid. Thanks to Pro Writing Aid Editing Tool, I made at least ten improvements to this article as I wrote it. I heartily recommend you take advantage of their two-week free trial—before you write another paragraph!
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