Agents contact me on a regular basis to ask me if I want to do a book about my life.
I say no.
I say no because I have no idea how to do a book about my life. I'm sure I have no idea because I already have had a six-figure book deal to write about my life that I'm not delivering on, and the editor has dumped me. (Read: Phone calls to collect on the large advance I've already spent.) So my qualifications to tell you advice about how to write about one’s life are questionable. But whatever; I have never stood on ceremony over qualifications.
Maybe the problem is that my life story needs a redemptive moment. This is what my agent-who-is-no-longer-my-agent tells me. And this is a warning to any agent who thinks they might want to be my agent: My past agent dumped me because (even though I did deliver on my first book deal) I am terrible at writing book proposals and I am terrible at following publishing industry rules. And her number one rule is that if you write about your life there must be a redemptive moment because people like that. “That's what sells,” is my not-my-agent's way of saying “That's what people like to read.”
So, okay. I try to see that. I mean, I've read plenty of memoirs – Girl, Interrupted, Smashed, Darkness Visible—all good books. All very redemptive at the end, for sure. But I've also read Anna Karenina. Well, I haven't, but I'm able to spoil the ending for you right now anyway (skip to the next paragraph if you don't want the spoiler). She gets hit by a train. I think she kills herself.
That seems redemptive to me. I mean, at least she doesn't have to wake up to her same problems every day.
I have told this to my not-agent. She said that people do not want to read about my fascination with suicide. It's true. I am fascinated by suicide: Why don't more people kill themselves? Life is very hard. And there is no sane reason to believe it will, at some point, get easier. So why do we keep going? I don't know. This fascinates me.
(Here is a great book of suicide letters. And here's a tidbit for all you productivity gurus: People in their 20's who kill themselves write suicide notes about how much they love the people who will be most hurt by the suicide: their parents, a boyfriend maybe. People in their 30's and 40's write suicide notes that are informational to-do lists: Where the cat food is, when the kid's homework is due, how to find the keys to the safety deposit box.
Both types of letters are great examples of how people have totally lost perspective when they kill themselves. This baffles me, since I also feel that we have totally lost our perspective by choosing to not kill ourselves.)
Okay. So I told my not-my-agent that my proposal for a memoir is redemptive because the reader will see that I did not kill myself before I got to the date of the national book tour.
That did not work for her.
So I said my book is redemptive because I had an insane childhood and look, now I'm not living on the street.
My agent told me that my life is too precarious for my surviving childhood to be redemptive. She told me I could write about keeping my marriage together even though we both have Aspergers Syndrome, but before I could write the proposal (and convince my ex that this would be okay to write) we divorced.
What about writing about the divorce?
She said divorce is not redemptive. I'm pretty sure that's when she told me to get a new agent.
Okay. So back to me telling you how to write about yourself. I say, forget about redemption. It's false. I read The Glass Castle, and I think it's nice Jeanette Wallis got out of her hell-hole family, but really, I want to know what her fights with her husband are like on her zillion-dollar Hamptons estate.
I think you should write the truth. Be real. If you obsess about redemption instead of the truth, you'll be like me, writing nothing, because life is not redemptive. Life isn't like that. Just write your own messy life, and let it spill out.
But, wait. Here's the problem with that. Your life is boring. I'm sorry to tell you this. But actually all our lives are boring. Which is another strike against obsessing over redemption: it doesn't make your life interesting, but good writing always makes life interesting.
So you need to tell something true to make people want to read, but you need to be interesting doing it.
Do you want to know what interesting is? How many articles and stories and blog posts have you read about getting fired? Six million, right? Everyone wants to tell their story. Most suck. But here's a great one: The CEO of Sun wrote a tweet to announce his resignation. It's interesting because of the media he chose, it's interesting because of the timing, and it's interesting because it's a haiku:
Financial crisis/Stalled too many customers/CEO no more
The bar is high if you want to be interesting. What can you do? Here’s what I do:
1. Assume you are not all that interesting. The reader does not want a peek into your life. Not enough people care. Do you know how I know? Because porn is boring. Sure, if you're using it for masturbation, it's interesting, because then it's giving you something. But if not, what are you doing watching? Who cares about someone else's sex life? And you can be sure that the peek into your life is never going to be as interesting as a porn movie. So forget writing a blog post merely to give someone a peek.
2. Cut fifteen percent of everything you write. Because no one is so interesting that they can't cut words.
3. Write to give the reader something they want. I try to focus on this with every post I write. But in fact, this is advice about how to do anything in your life: Help people as much as you can. Give people what they need, and if you focus on that, the rest will fall into place. This is true of how to network, how to parent, how to manage people and also how to write about your life.
So really, the world is full of ways to give to each other, and we're all just looking for the best way. And this, in the end, is probably why we don't kill ourselves.