After reading and reviewing Vanessa Farquharson’s Sleeping Naked is Green last week, I realized it’s the latest in a hot memoir trend, which has produced some of my favourite books of the last few years. Basically, the success formula seems to be: set yourself some ridiculous life challenge for a defined period of time, usually one year, get a book deal (preferably in advance, to fund the challenge, though that’s not always the case), and write about it. Presto! Bestseller!!
So, I’ve decided to deviate from the thankless path of writing novels and take this alternate route to the bestseller list. All I need to do is set myself a challenge, make a plan, and start writing witty, self-deprecating reflections on how it goes.
Just one tiny problem: I have no idea what my challenge should be. Any suggestions?
Should I try to go green for a year, like Vanessa Farquharson did? I’ve tried giving up plastic for a week, but I don’t think I could do it for a year.
How about living alone on an isolated island for a year, like Robert Kull? I wouldn’t even have to go to South America — there are plenty of isolated islands right off our own coast. But I can’t build a cabin. Or cut wood. Or do — well, anything really.
Maybe I could take off on 80 blind dates located in different places around the globe, like Jennifer Cox. Or spend a year exploring the world of internet dating, like Sean Thomas. Except — what’s that? Oh right, happily married. Scratch those ideas.
I love the idea of trying to live by every Biblical precept for an entire year, except A.J. Jacobs has already done it so well. Then there’s Benyamin Cohen, a Jew who spent a year exploring different Christian worship services. I love comparative religions, but here in St. John’s I could visit the synagogue, the mosque, and the Hindu temple and still have 49 weeks to go.
Of course, if I’m willing to travel I could just hop on a plane and spend four months each in three exotic destinations, sorting out my life, like Elizabeth Gilbert. One problem here is that my life, unlike hers when she started her trip, is mostly pretty well sorted. I could use maybe a couple of weeks in each place, tops, but then I’d just be back to sightseeing, and then you’re just doing travel writing which is a whole other thing.
To make a cutting-edge bestseller, it seems that the ideal challenge:
1) Taps into other people’s issues and concerns. Being green is hot. Religion is hot. Dating is always hot. You have to pick a challenge that’s somehow topical and that people care about, a “hook” to sell the eventual book. I could learn to knit and that would probably take a year, and I could be hilarious writing about it. But I don’t think it would have the requisite mass appeal.
2) Needs to mess up your life a fair bit. A challenge that allows you to continue your everyday life without too much upset isn’t going to make for great reading. Which is really my problem, because I want to keep my job, my marriage, and my kids, and taking on most of these types of challenges would threaten at least one if not all three. I notice hardly any of these types of books are written by married people with children and full-time jobs … coincidence? I think not.
3) Can be written about in a witty, charming, engaging fashion. Hey, I could do that part, couldn’t I?
So we’re back to finding a challenge.
Here’s my one idea so far: silence.
I am such a compulsive talker, and surely in this noisy world of ours, we need a little more silence. What if I took a vow of silence as ancient monks did, except instead of doing it in a monastery, I’d try to observe silence in the middle of my busy everyday life as a teacher, mom, wife and volunteer?
Think of how my inner resources would be tapped! Think of how my spiritual life would deepen! Think of the life lessons I would learn, and subsequently write about. It would be a bestseller!!!
The only problems I can see are:
1) I would lose my job instantly.
2) It would completely destroy my family life.
3) I wouldn’t last till the end of the first day.
So, not a vow of silence then. I dunno, I’m out of ideas. What have you got for me, people?