July 11, 2010

I Do

Over the years, I have had several people tell me I should write a book. They mention my unassuming voice and passion for the craft as reason enough to just do it. The suggestions have increased over the years, and tonight I got a very interesting proposal from a Twitter associate:
I’ve been mulling over starting my own lit agency and I like yr work. If you have a book project in mind, let me know. I am also thinking of getting a group of teacher-writers to contribute to anthology... i used to work for an agent way back when and I have yrs of exp in book publishing...anyway, my own agency is something I've had in mind... I have an agent, myself, but she handles kids/YA. I have many academic publishing connections, and would like to help other writers publish. An anthology could come together well, I think, but there's no money in that, really. Just publishing laurels. Otherwise, think of yr own bk
Whether this offer is legit, or even possible is moot. It has only ever been a dream of mine to write a book let alone make any money form it. I am not so naïve to think that it only takes a bit of luck and a whim to make a living writing. I have always written due to an unsaitable desire to be heard and connect with the small flock of people who may be reading at any given time.

I have, however, always wanted to write a book. My problem has always been that I do not know what this book should be about. This distracted path is the reason why I have spent over two years stalling here at Intrepid Flame. I write out of habit and necessity, but there is very little focus or driving force to my ideas. I think a book can bring a lot of themes together for me. Despite my lack of confidence, people seem to look past the typos, the grammatical embarrassments and attach themselves to the kernel of sincerity that my writing provides. This should be enough. Right?

Open Book
image by melanieburger

I want to write a book. Whether this woman can get it published or not is irrelevant. I want to spend the next year writing a book. I want to put in the hours. I want to make the commitment. I am ready to sell my pound of flesh. I want to make it happen. I do.

Here is where I need your help. As a regular reader of this blog, friend, family member or co-worker who knows my style, my topics, and my strengths I need you to answer a few questions. In your opinion:

1. What should this book be about?
2. What themes do you see repeated in my prose?
3. What are my strengths?
4. What should I stay away from?

Any ideas will be appreciated. Take a look around. Read some old posts and please leave a comment below.


  1. Hi Jabiz!
    I've struggled with this same kind of feeling - that I want to write a book (or books). But what about? I have a bunch of ideas, but which one? Or which one first? And do I have the capacity to finish it?

    One thing I've come to recognize for myself throughout all this questioning: No one else can tell me what I should write about. Only by looking inside and seeing what resonates can I find what is true for myself!

    A good friend once advised me - "Pay attention to what catches your attention." In other words, what catches your breath, makes you stop and notice, etc...? Often, it's our greatest struggle that becomes our greatest gift to the world (since we've had to work so hard to figure it out!!).

    Don't worry about what you think you "should" do - just focus on what matters to you. Your tribe will resonate with that and you'll be doing something important for yourself!

    Sending hugs your way!
    Heidi (@hhg)

  2. My first comment ;p somewhat echoed Heidi's in respect to writing what you want to write. It is too big of a job (and way to personal for you) to not keep it true to you.

    That being said, when I read your posts I notice how they seem to have the theme of connection. You connect to other people, new places, and even lyrics in the music you listen to. You desire to develop relationships through these connections.

    I enjoy watching Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations on tv. He is a chef that travels the world, meets people, and eats. (He is also a pretty good author too.) What I enjoy about his work is similar to your work, he helps me connect to what he is doing. So, if I were paying you large sums of money to write a book for me I would have you write about your travels, your connections, and the things you are passionate about. Let me live vicariously through your prose, which I find to be beautiful.

    On the other hand, if you are thinking about writing fiction, I have nothing for you except make sure your stories are about characters first and plot second. I have (almost) never read a book that I cared anything for that didn't make me have an emotional attachment to the characters (good or bad.)

    If I can help in any way, let me know.

  3. I think what Heidi said is very important--it will be you who has to pour blood, sweat, and tears into this project, and it will have to be something you are really passionate about.

    That said, a couple of ideas/themes that would interest me as a reader:

    1) Your experiences living in a variety of countries and cultures. I think this gives you a unique perspective on the world that not everyone gets.

    2) I've been thinking about your Twitter post on the art of teaching. I think it ties into the theme of connecting, too. I've been thinking... what if instead of teaching teachers how to write tests to determine how students are doing, we teach teachers what frustration can look like on a student's face, and how to tell whether or not that frustration is good or bad? Just as an example of a different way of thinking about teaching. You seem to take sort of a Zen approach, which I like--seize the moment or opportunities that your students hunger for.

    I don't know if that helps at all, but maybe it will give you a few things to start thinking about.

  4. i just finished reading John Spencer's teaching unmasked. he's writing about humility - no walls, facades, a lot of heart, truth, soul...
    Cathy's comment on writing about student hunger makes me think of that. and John's writing is pretty raw.. like you write.

    i like the idea of living vicariously through your adventures. i mean i was totally caught up in your recent hotel stay.. new paint.. clean sheets.. the way people are looking at your family...the mix of two worlds..

    any of this would be good.. just because it's you.. and it would be from your heart.. not a job. right?

    i must say - i love that you are doing this. i really wish someone could call time out for the entire world. say.. game over... new rules. and then everyone would start over with those kindergarten passions.. and develop them. i think the world would be a better place.

    to that end.. Heidi is exactly right. what if this book was all you would have to leave for the world.. for your girls.. what would matter most then.. what part of your mind would you most want them to know about and to be able to hold in their hand...

    very cool...

  5. It's legit, never fear. I have been meaning for a couple of years now to get this started. There are no guarantees about anything, for anyone, but in terms of a book project, I would say: think of what you specifically have to offer the world...which is, I think, your way of seeing (and what you see).

    I like the idea of "connections" that other people have suggested. I don't know all that much about your travels, but I do get the feeling that you are a citizen of the world and that's the type of person students need to know and meet and learn from. Other teachers, too.

    The one thing we can give to contemporary students is the idea of world (planetary) citizenship. It's the only thing that will save the world, I think--if more people are invested in and understand other cultures as well as their own.

    Let me look around more and I will tell you what I think...I am trying at the moment to craft a general theme/proposal for the teacher anthology, too.



  6. Me again!6:07 PM

    I’m with Heidi, the book has to come from within… not from us…. sure folk can proof read, criticize, offer guidance but you’re the person that has to kick start and get it moving. You can’t tell me you’ve not thought about where you want to start, but as Kaia would say “don’t be shy” just get on with it….

    I think there are a hundred books within you but what you have to work out is which one you’re going to start with.

    Which thoughts/passions continuously bubble to the surface?

    You write about things passionately but dare I say a little naively like a child with its eyes wide opening, questioning everything around you.

    It’s that characteristic that makes you one of the best teachers I’ve worked with as your passion for learning and changing, adapting both your values and beliefs is something that makes you progressive, evolutionary but at the same time true to your own sense of self.

    So yeah, talk teaching, travel, connections but what about what you’ve learned from those connections, those journeys? What have you learned about yourself? What have you learned from your students, those around you who have been just as influential in guiding/moulding you, as you them? If you have, how did you become that global citizen mentioned?

    How about expand on your TED talk theme? As you develop your gardening skills associate them with teaching/learning/nurturing/developing/connecting all those life experiences you’ve had until now and will continue to have, just as your garden will continue to grow or wither if neglected……

    That talk was so inspirational so why not take it further?

    So there that’s my tuppence worth! Or should I say cents?! ;-)

  7. Hello Mr. R,

    I'm happy to hear this, this idea that you want to write a book. Personally, I think it takes a lot of time and patience, i had a failed attempt myself in ninth grade, but I was young back then. Though I know that you can do this, actually I was waiting for the day when you would come around to this idea.

    Now, I don't know what interests you to write entirely, but let me give some advice. Whatever you write about, don't feel forced to write about it. I mean in your mind don't think that you would like to write something and end up writing about it. I would suggest just sit and clear your mind and write a little, and whatever seems to be something you want to write about more, then that's it.
    I have no idea what you will write, fiction, non-fiction etc etc, but whatever it is, the only help I can give is, make sure it comes from the heart, other then that, you will do great.

  8. Louise7:12 PM

    What should this book be about?
    1. Something you feel passionate enough to write about when the writing gets tough!
    2. You come across continually as "cause" oriented. In regard to question # 1, what cause do you believe in that most touches your heart.
    3. What are my strengths? Ability to produce beautiful language that paints a picture with words.
    4. What should I stay away from? Make sure your writing plan includes continual communication with your wife. She will be holding down the fort while you create. Let her know what a "mood" is about. Is it about frustration for not being able to write? Is it about something she has done? My guess is that she will not know unless you tell her. Don't just expect her to know the writer you are now becoming just because she knows the writer you have been.

  9. Thanks. Everyone. Great advice and I hear and love what you are saying. I am getting close to a rough outline of where this going to go, but never hurts to hear what others have to say. I am not asking for you to tell me what to write, but rather to give me a sense of what has resonated with you so far, so I have a direction to head in.

    Thanks again. I am getting very excited about this!

  10. just saw bret easton ellis read a few weeks ago and someone asked him how he came up with patrick bateman. ellis was in his mid-twenties, and really starting to 'understand' the world; he felt alienated and thought a good story to tell would be that of someone who was 'successful'. he started hanging around with some wall street guys he knew from college; he said the conversation really focused on things like new business cards, restaurant reservations, brand names of luggage...then one evening, after about three weeks, they were having cocktails and he looked at one of them, and thought: 'this fucking guy is a serial killer'...and patrick bateman was born.

    so, like everyone is suggesting:

    write about something you know and something you need to get off your chest.

    formulate character(s) that are defined to the point that you know what they will do or say.

    similar to what louise said, be serious about how and when you write: i've heard both fiction authors and phds say things like 'i sat down at the computer from 9 am to 4 pm, everyday, with half an hour for lunch. some days i wrote three hundred words, other days i wrote two thousand.' nick cave kept 'office hours' when writing the album 'nocturama'; i know a guy from seattle who is painting scenes from the freedom tower construction in nyc, and he's painting nine to ten hours a day. 'creative work' is still work.

  11. I'm just going to echo what's already been said - especially Heidi's comment. I think you need to spend some time in that magical brainstorming stage and see what rises to the top after you get every fantastic idea down on paper somewhere. Only you know what you can write about best -- that's why it is going to be your writing!

    How very exciting! I know you'll be great at it whichever topic(s) evolve out of that idea stew. :) Looking forward to reading!

  12. Thanks for pointing me to this, Jabiz.

    It sounds like you already have an idea of your passions, what you know, and what you're generally interested in writing about.

    What I'd do, before finalizing the outline you mentioned above, is sit down to do two exercises:

    1) Think about all of the books that really have affected you over the years. How are they structured? What tone and voice does the author utilize, how many subjects are covered, etc.? By doing this, you'll begin to hone in on the logistics of writing a full-length book. While it's important to stay flexible, having a well-purposed outline is a great way to stay motivated to get started.

    2) Free write! The couple of friends that I have who are serious writers always suggest that I do this. The brain works in mysterious ways, so by taking out a blank sheet and drawing bubbles, writing a few paragraphs and letting your thoughts guide you, you might be surprised with what happens.

    I'm excited to hear more about this project. I do think blending your experiences from the U.S., Qatar, Indonesia and other places you've traveled would ultimately be beneficial to whatever story you're trying to tell. People dig travel, alternative backgrounds and life paths. Maybe talk about your times in California, "drinking [yourself] in and out of several community colleges up and down the California coast line." Loved reading your "What People Call a Future" post. It's just so personal and inspiring. Stick to stuff like that.

    Best of luck, and please keep us all informed!

  13. I think you could write a good book about teaching- like a combination of Angela's Ashes and 'Tis rolled into one big cosmopolitanistic "life for dummies" kind of book-

  14. mhairi6:06 AM

    Definitely write about something you are passionate about. Pour your love hate anger, etc , into your characters and storyline......your strength seems to me that you have the courage to follow your dream, to make it happen.........most people take the easy option, the safe road, the stay with what I'm comfortable doing route,,,,SO,,,,,,,GO FOR IT....GOOD LUCK,,,,,LOOKING FORWARD TO READING YOUR BOOK ONE OF THESE DAYS :)

  15. What do you find yourself writing about most often? What really keeps that flame burning? Do you want it to be fiction or non-fiction? Creative or academic?

    I think it would be really awesome to write a quasi-fictional story about some of the things you are passionate about. That way you can really take chances and explore and maybe find new understanding in things you've always taken for granted. Just a suggestion.

  16. Anonymous12:37 PM

    Have you read Disgrace by Coetzee? Somehow when I envision a novel by you I think it would be similar to that... less dark maybe, less depressing, but animated by the same sense of person, as if the barriers between writer and audience were broken down. Blogging is a difficult thing to me, because you never know who will read your writing or what frame of mind they'll be in, but you do with a bare, almost naked honesty. I guess I feel that if you wrote a book, that is where its strength would lie.

  17. Na'tahne2:13 PM

    I think you have a really unique perspective. Where you were born vs. where you were raised, how you've chosen to live your life.... there are few like you and a unique voice is something to be valued in the literary world.

    I would ask, what is the thing you are most passionate about? What is the thing that you can write about endlessly, that you know inside and out, that keeps you awake if you think about it too much? What makes you scream or laugh or feel more, deeper, harder than anything else?

    Whatever that is, write it down. Write it as honestly and purely as you can. Don't worry about who will read it, just write it for yourself. Write it like you're trying to seduce it....and yourself.

  18. Whatever you write about, I think one of the most powerful aspects of your writing and personality in general is the contrasting and oftentimes conflicting lens which you use. That raw, self-exploring, unassuming nature combined with the critical, deconstructive, opinionated thinking that comes out of that head of yours. I wish you the best!

  19. I cant really offer an practical or concrete suggestions Jabiz, except to be very sure your heart burns to do it. Not that I have an experience (and I share your dream), but writing sounds romantically idyllic, when I guess in practicality, it is long hard relentless, and sometimes tedious work.

    Like the blog post that gnaws at your soul, you need to have that burn for days on end. For me, I'm not all that convinced that the topic of something in teaching or technology compels a frozen in time snapshot, as what state of the art is changes immensely by the time you finish.

    Fiction is a whole different end game. You might want to try on of those things like National Novel Writing Month (I did the one in November, but there seem to be ones going all the time) as it gets you in the mode of writing like daily exercise.

    And do not discount what is going to have to budge in your time pie to make room for writing- is it blogging? photography? music? family time? sleep?

    Frankly, the real push has to come from within. If you want to just write and share idea, why you have the perfect platform right here. If you have a larger work to do, a more comprehensive whole, well there are a number of ways to do that, from online publishing to going the dead tree route.

    If you really desire to have the concrete thing in your hand, and copies to send to your family, with your smiling photo on the book jacket and the Oprah tour, well, then that is another route.

    At the same time, doing a larger work is a great challenge, and nothing worth doing is as easy as dashing off blog posts.

    To me, the acid test is does the idea, the concept keep you up at night? Does it creep into your daily thoughts? Are you going to not feel right until you write? Cause you will need a lot of fuel to drive it across the line.

    I'm eager to see what you do, and hope you share the process right here.

  20. Erika Smith Merrell7:57 AM

    What is your purpose? What do you feel you were put on the planet to do? What is the unique contribution to human civilization that exists within your soul? That is what you should write about. I look forward to buying the book!

  21. Anonymous6:28 PM

    Mr. R,

    Seeing as this is your debut novel, I think that the theme should be something that shouts YOU YOU YOU. What's so refreshing is that your prose (from what I've been reading in your blog) is so raw of your feelings, opinions, and experiences. Whether it's commenting on something that Kaia did or perhaps praising a music artist - your voice is there and even though it's hard to explain, you have this way of making the audience think. Of making them stop and ponder. Not saying that your book should be philosophical, but rather something that you can really write fiercely about.

    When I imagine your novel, I imagine it to be all about your travel experiences, fatherhood, teaching, music and other art forms, and basically just whatever can stir up an individual and their views/opinions of life!

    And so to sum it up, perhaps your novel should be about a person who travels the world in the quest to find the meaning of true beauty in life, whether it's bumming out with a young & fearless music artist (hence writing about the beauty of art), travelling with backpackers and discovering the world's natural beauty, meeting a retired professor who spills info on the beauty of teaching, or finally, staying with a family who loves their children (the beauty of parenthood).

    Phew! I hope it hasn't been done before. As I wrote it, it seemed like such a silly idea. But it's just a suggestion of course. (:

    I'm sorry Mr. R, for being so... runny, with my words, but I just can't express how excited I am for your book!

    Best of luck, I know you can do this!

    - An old student

  22. Anonymous7:29 PM

    Don't think too hard Mr. R! Just WRITE. I think this book should be kind of like a fictional autobiography. Write something using just your own voice. Write about your journeys, what it's like being a father etc. Write a book that will make us laugh and cry all at the same time. Something emotional but humorous as well.

    Good luck and I can't wait to see it in the stores. ;)

    - former MKIS student.

  23. Hey Anonymous old students how about some first names, so I know who you are? Thanks for the advice. The general plan is coming together and I have a rough idea of where I am going. I will get started soon. Will keep you all posted.

  24. My advice is this:

    Write a true life experience memoir. Not a whole memoir, but find a very vague theme based upon your own internal conflict. Write it quickly, get it out.

    At the same time, write a slower novel, a work of fiction that stretches you to think way past yourself. I wrote "Teaching Unmasked" in a month. I'm writing "Pencil Me In" in another month. I've been working on a superhero memoir (much more indie/artsy) for two years and it will take me another two or three before I finish.

    Have one work that you get out quickly (it's not sloppy, it's what's needed for it to stay coherant) and something else you pour out slowly.