Can Writing a Book be Like Building A House?

(Incidentally, my book, Cows in the Fog and Other Poems and Stories, is available at Amazon.com in paperback or ebook.)

Yes writing a book can be like building a house. Over the years I have learned a good deal about how one can create a book project that he can actually complete. And complete it without wasting a lot of time and being excessively depleted of energy.

As well as being a professional writer, I am a carpenter and general contractor in the business of building homes. Say you are building your own home. You must design and build a house you are capable of building. You must ask yourself these questions. How big should I build it based on the money, time, and energy I have? If you begin construction on a house bigger and more complex than your capability, you may not soon be able to finish it. The quality of your craftsmanship or materials might end up suffering. Or you may have to borrow so much money you go too deeply in debt and become anxiety ridden. Many people do this, only to wish later on they had built a smaller, cozier home that didn’t wear them out.

Furthermore, readers, like home dwellers, often find they don’t necessarily enjoy a bigger, more intense, and complicated book. Especially today many don’t sell as well.

With my writing, I have learned over time who I am as a writer. Much of this process came after my years of studying writing in college and graduate school, and being a long-term member of a writer’s group. I have seen many people start to write short stories or books they never complete or would have been happier if they never started them.

Of course some books don’t get completed because the plot is not “big enough” to justify two hundred pages or more.

Or it may be that the writer has chosen to write something that is too complicated, too deep, or too unsettling. I recall a girl in graduate school starting to write a book about a female clergy person who had sexually abused her. She began having awful headaches as she wrote and gave up the project. I have seen people write stories about how awful their families were, or about traumatic events in their life, only to give it up because the process became psychologically overwhelming. (Of course any of these subjects can be handled well if a person has the required personality, experience and expertise.)

How about the famous poets Ann Sexton and Sylvia Plath? Both wrote brilliant but scathing poems about their families. Could writing these intense poems have contributed to the unhappiness that caused them to commit suicide? I don’t know. But from time to time I have wondered.

Obviously Stephen King has the stamina to write terrifying books, but do most writers, especially new ones? Or might they be better off writing about something less intense for their first book or stories or even later on?

Did you know Truman Capote was quoted as saying he wished he never wrote his bestseller “In Cold Blood.” Why? He became too involved on a personal level with a man who committed murder and was eventually hung for it. Capote was deeply disturbed by the observing the hanging. Later, he wrote a lightly camouflaged book about the life the high society of Gloria Vanderbilt and her friends. When these folks found out that Capote, whom they had taken into that class as one of their own, had written negatively about them, they booted him from their circle of friends. That really hurt the writer, and reportedly set off years of unhappiness and heavy drinking at the then famous nightclub Studio 54.

I watched a documentary on Netflix about J.D. Salinger, who said he wished he never wrote “The Catcher in the Rye.” The documentary explained how Salinger had delved into some deep dark places spiritually, which eventually left him rattled. Upon becoming famous, he became famous for the story about a rattled adolescent, he often could not find peace. Many people, fascinated by his ability to write such a unique book, pursued him relentlessly, leaving him anxiety ridden.

Okay, maybe I’ve said too much about writers known to be unhappy, and there are many writers who don’t suffer negative consequences after writing long, intense books. I am using these extreme examples to illustrate a point, which has been famously well stated. “To Thine Own Self be True.”

As for me, I intentionally avoided writing a book this time that I knew would be too complicated to finish in a timely fashion or might make me feel uneasy. In fact, I wrote “Cows in the Fog and Other Poems and Stories” after very careful consideration.

At the same time, I had been considering writing a thriller. However, I’m the type of person who likes to watch a comforting TV show or book before bed, such as a mystery that has some element of comedy set against an elegant background like the ocean. I enjoy a good laugh before turning in, such as sitcoms provide. To watch gory movies or shows, or t.v. news before turning in darkens the moments before I lie down for the night.

So when I set out to write my book of poetry, I wanted it to be something that would inspire me before bed. It took me many years to learn how to do this, and to resist getting deep as the bottom of the ocean. Part of my strategy was to study books of writers who seemed to have fun writing as well as a posessing a good quality of life.

An acquaintance recently told me she was friends with a woman who has sold 100 million copies of her books, a writer named Debbie Macomber. Her books are a fairly easy read, not excessively intense, and heartwarming. Hallmark has made movies out of some of her books.

P.G. Wodehouse, a famous humor writer wrote close to 100 books known as “farces.” The British novelist, who was eventually knighted by the queen of England, had a huge audience of people who loved them. But many criticized him for not writing “serious” literature. He was not bothered by these people. In fact, he was proud of his satirical works. He wondered why people write books so complex and intense that it dampens their quality of life.

Andy Rooney, the closer of Sixty Minutes, once wrote a book I read. It was enjoyable enough, and written by a man who reportedly had quality of life. The Chicken Soup for the Soul series of heartwarming books is the largest selling series of American books. People can’t get enough of them, and apparently writers have a good time.

The recent Poet Laureat Billy Collins writes interesting poetry that seemingly wouldn’t tax the soul too greatly, and his books sell exceptionally well for his genre. I can say at the least, they are poems that don’t overtax my mind. He’s one of the few poets who gets publisher’s advances.

And so my friends, with the philosophy I was able to develop over many years as I have written and built houses, I was able to build my book of 50 poems, publish it, and sell copies. I enjoyed the process, felt good about upon completion, and love the the fact that people tell me it is at times heartwarming, humorous, and deep enough to stimulate thinking.

I sleep well thinking about “Cows in the Fog and Other Poems and Stories.”

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