"Everyone should write at least one book in their lifetime," my nephew Jason once declared with great conviction. I remember pondering the thought at the time, struck by the maturity of the remark coming from a teenage boy.
Fast forward 15 years and a novel under my belt, I can now vouch for the wisdom and insightfulness of my nephew's observation. We should all write a book, one that reflects our individuality and gives substance to our ideas, a book to be shared with the world.
Here are my five reasons for doing it:
1: It's Like Therapy
Through the process of writing a book, you will learn about yourself. Pick a story that matters to you and ask yourself, why this story? What compels you to create these characters and events? You will find that as you write, you will draw from your own experiences and people you have met, and this will force you to reflect on your own life path. Then because "writing is rewriting," you will keep digging deep inside yourself to discover new facets of your story and hidden corners of your personal experience.
In my case, I started writing City of the Sun because I was curious to learn about my Egyptian Jewish roots and the circumstances surrounding my family's expulsion from the country when I was three years old. Initially the endeavor was intellectual, but as I immersed myself in my parents' bygone world, I began to feel a nostalgic longing for it. As I read about the vibrant and thriving Jewish community in Cairo, I grew proud to have come from there and my alienation from my cultural Arabic roots softened as I began to embrace them. I also have grown to realize how the trauma of my family's expulsion during the Suez Crisis must have shaped my psychology and personality when our stable world was replaced by years of chaos.
How many opportunities does one get for this level of self reflection?
2: It Will Make You Smarter
No matter what you choose to write about, at some point you will have to do some research. You may need to learn about a particular period of time -- for me it was 1941 in Egypt -- or just refresh your memory of a place, object or activity. Pulling on that thread of discovery will unravel a wealth of related information, and before long you will be educating yourself on all aspects of the world you are creating.
My own quest to understand wartime Cairo revealed a world I never knew existed, a cosmopolitan city of refugees, spies and soldiers ten times more exotic than Casablanca. Many world leaders and historical figures also inhabited that world and I must admit being overwhelmed at times by the amount of research, but it was enthralling to uncover so many of the roots of today's problems in the Middle East.
3: You'll Learn How Much Pain You Can Take
Writing a book is not a sprint, it is a marathon -- one that can take you months if not years. It took 13 years for me! Unlike shorter forms of writing, a book is an exercise in discipline and time management that will test your endurance. It isn't easy to sit in front of a blank page or computer screen and fill it with words that tell a story in a cohesive and entertaining way day after day, especially when one has to juggle other obligations. Let's face it, most of us do not have the luxury to spend all day writing.
When I first started my book, I had a busy law practice, a young daughter and a stream of obligations. But I got creative and came up with a ritual that worked for me. I wrote a bit every morning no matter what I had scheduled for that day and kept a motivational phrase close at hand: "Where there is a will, there is a way."
4: Yes, You Matter
Whether you realize it or not, your life experiences, personality and worldview give you a voice that is entirely unique. When you share that voice with the world, you may be surprised by the power of your written word and who it will reach.
One of the most satisfying parts of having written a novel is receiving messages from people all over the world telling me the various ways my words touched them. Isn't this ultimately what it's all about? Touching another human being?
Now think about the consequences of not writing your book. If you do not tell your story, no one else will. No one else can. It will be the world's loss. Which brings us to...
5: You Will Live Forever!
In City of the Sun, one of the main characters lost her mother in the war and laments that she has nothing to remember her by but the memories themselves. "Is that what one is reduced to after death?" she wonders. "A memory? A picture on a piano?"
Memories really are all that are left of us when we leave this earth. Even a photo on the piano may only be preserved for a couple of generations, if you are lucky. Your book, though, will live forever, especially in the digital age. There is no telling where it will end up and who it will continue to inspire through the ages.
My nephew Jason, now a grown man, has accomplished many wonderful things in the last 15 years. He has yet to write a book, but I know one day he will. What about you? What is holding you back? Maybe that is where your story should begin.