I find that I feel writing a non-fiction subject oriented book is nonsense for non-academics. I feel a strong aversion to the idea of writing a non-fiction book, as people have suggested to me occasionly since university.

Different elements are part of that aversion:

  • There’s a plethora of non-fiction books that to me seem 300 to 400 pages of anecdotal padding around a core idea that would fit on the backflap. Many such books lack tables of content and indexes, seemingly to better hide that one or few core ideas, so you need to go through all pages to find them.
  • The motivation for non-fiction writers to write a book I often find suspect. Aimed at marketing and PR, in support of selling themselves as consultant for instance. Written not to serve an audience, or even find one, but as a branding prop. That makes the actual content often even thinner. Such as taking something anecdotal like “I had this great project I enormously enjoyed doing” and anointing it as the new truth, “Organise all your projects like this, it’s a universal method!”
  • I equally find my own favourite topics suspect as material for writing a book. I don’t think any of the topics I work on, and have been working on, are deep enough or have enough solid foundation to stand on their own as a book. It could only become a range of anecdotes around ideas that themselves fit in a sentence or two. In my activities context and environment are key in working out how an idea can be made to work for a client, and that’s the work. That’s a good source of anecdotes, but not more. See the first bullet. A book about it would be a collection of opinions, and in my eyes would take a rather large amount of work to give those ideas a more solid footing.

In a conversation with E about this a few months ago, she said that’s a very arrogant stance towards authors (they have nothing to say), as well as belittling myself (I have nothing to say). I think those are both the same things, that most people, including me, don’t have enough to say to fill a book, to spend tens of thousands of words on. Many have enough to say on enough moments to at that time fill a great blogpost, article, a pamphlet (like the one about birthday unconferences shown in the right hand column), or an essay. But not a book, an artefact that seems such a heavyweight creation and production process in comparison. There are those who write a book by collating material that was previously written as blogposts, or as internal notes, and then somewhat rearranged. I see that as case in point more than counter argument.

As stated at the top, I make exceptions for academic books, explaining or introducing a field or actual research and their popular science counterparts, and for non-subject non-fiction, that e.g. describes a journey (geographically, or through life for instance, ‘true stories’, the history of a topic and how we ended up in the current situation, that sort of thing).
I also don’t mean fiction. Fiction’s role is very different, and any story that makes you read the next sentence and the next and the next is not what I mean here.
In that sense I very much appreciate the work of Cory Doctorow, who writes articles, essays, columns and blogposts about the topics he cares about, and writes fiction books to explore those same topics along different and novel routes.

Yet, our house holds many non-fiction books. A stack of books that keeps ever growing. So, why is that? Is it that there is more value in the whole, the collection of books read, and those unread, as opposed to the lack of value I perceive in any singular book in itself? Or maybe I don’t understand what writing a non-fiction book is, and what it is for. There are people reading my blog who have written non-fiction books. What were your motivations and aims? Why a book?

9 reactions on “Writing A Book Is Nonsense

  1. @ton > There’s a plethora of non-fiction books that to me seem 300 to 400 pages of anecdotal padding around a core idea that would fit on the backflap.I’ve thought the same thing many times. Of course it doesn’t apply to books about history, or textbooks, but there’s certainly a large subsection of non-fiction that is guilty of this crime.

  2. Wat bedoel je precies met nonsense, en heb je dan ook voorbeelden van dingen die niet-nonsense? Wat is een boek in jouw optiek? En is het schrijven op zichzelf van waarde?

  3. Herkenbaar, ik schreef uiteindelijk mijn boek over het nieuwe voice kanaal niet 50% voor mezelf maar 90 of meer. En mijn persoonlijke ervaring met andere non fictie/business boeken is dat het inderdaad veel korter kan. Mijn strategie nu is wanneer ik een interessant idee uitgewerkt vind in zo’n boek is om de video’s van de auteur te vinden. Dan wel de podcast met lange interviews. Soms koop ik dan ook het boek, meer als totem volgens mij. Jij hebt al een boek geschreven. Dat zijn alle blogposts en artikelen die je her en der achtergelaten. 🙂 wat wellicht interessant is voor jou om te overwegen is om een biografie te schrijven. Dus waar kom je vandaan, wat heb je gedaan, waarom en hoe. Toen ik je blogpost las had ik het idee dat jij wel wat te vertellen had, wellicht dat die form wel helpt.


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