Why I'll never write a book

Despite her mother's prodding, Ellen Warren will never do what so many journalists are urged to do

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Typing on a typewriter

Typing on typewriter (Tom Grill / January 5, 2013)

‘You should write a book.” Or, “Why don't you write a book?” Or, “Have you ever thought about writing a book?”

Are you detecting a theme here?

Anyone who writes for a living — anyone that is, with a mother or well-meaning friends — has heard those words over and over. And over.

Yes, Mom, I write for a living. No, I do not want to write a book.

Or, to put it another way: Do I look like I'm crazy?

This piece first ran in Printers Row Journal, delivered to Printers Row members with the Sunday Chicago Tribune and by digital edition via email. Click here to learn about joining Printers Row.

We journalists meet interesting people, run across interesting stories, lead interesting lives. We already know how to write, so, surely we could/should turn out an interesting book. That's the theory of our mothers, friends and people we run into at our kids' baseball games. That is a terrible theory.

"You covered a war. You should write a book."

"You knew President Bush, you interviewed Obama, so why not write a book?"

OK, but what would the second paragraph of that book say?

The trifecta of reasons I don't want to write a book: debt, doubt and despair.

Every author I've ever talked to has suffered at least two of the three. (I'm talking about heavily researched books based in fact. Fiction is a whole different species but no easier than nonfiction when it comes to making a living.)

My conviction that writing a book is a terrible idea was underscored — once again — when the Chicago Tribune held its annual holiday book sale. This is an event where thousands of unsolicited books sent to the newspaper by publishers, authors, agents and publicists are arrayed on tables in a large room for sale to Tribune employees for a buck or two for charity.

For anyone who has ever considered writing a book, it is a humbling and cautionary experience to look at the rows and rows of titles produced by so many hard-working, earnest, hopeful, talented, ambitious, delusional men and women you've never heard of.

Why would anyone want to be one of them? Count me out.

"There are close to 200,000 books published every year by traditional publishing houses. And there's only room on the best-seller list for 15 at a time," observes Kitty Kelley, the best-selling author of "Oprah: A Biography" and six earlier hugely successful unauthorized biographies.

Kelley describes the agony of researching and writing: "The weeping and wailing. 'I won't be able to do it. I can't do it. Why did I sign up for this?'"

Why does she keep doing it? "You're going to have to ask the same question of mothers after childbirth. Why do they do it again? You forget the pain and you rise to the challenge. Maybe it just takes more guts than brains."

Call me the Gutless Wonder.

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