If you are a journalist who has spent enough time covering a certain topic to know it in depth, it might be time to write a book. Or if you're tired of writing about real estate and have a passion for growing pumpkins, you may also want to take the book leap. But how do you start?
IJNet talked to Eric Weiner, the New York Times bestselling author of The Geography of Bliss and Man Seeks God. Weiner is a former foreign correspondent for National Public Radio, based in Tokyo, New Delhi and Jerusalem who started his career on the staff at the New York Times.
IJNet: Does every journalist have a book in them? How did you decide you were going to write your first book?
Eric Weiner: No, I don't think every journalist has an idea inside of him or her, but many do. I think that stems from a desire to write more deeply -- and often more personally -- than the usual 800-word article or two-minute TV story. I knew I wanted to write a book but I could never find the "right" idea. Then, while visiting Kazakhstan, it came to me. Just like that.
IJNet: Do you write what interests you or what interests people in general?
EW: I write about what interests me and trust that other people will be interested as well. I think that's the best approach. You need to have a driving, personal passion for your project, and that passion must come from within, not from trying to figure out what readers want.
IJNet: Can a journalist combine a job and writing a book?
EW: Yes. In fact, many do. But it's not easy. The daily demands of journalism often clash with the slower, deeper process of writing a book.
IJNet: The digital age has changed journalism. How did it affect the book industry?
EW: Good question. How much time do you have? The short answer is that the book industry is in a state of major flux, just like other media. The rise of e-books, the fall of a major book chain, the changing reading habits of people. All of these dynamics are affecting the publishing industry.
But -- and this is important -- the basic job of the author has not changed. We still write our books (electronic or paper) the same way: one word at a time. People love a good story and always have. That's why I'm confident that the book, in whatever form, will survive.
IJNet: What is your next book about?
EW: My next book is about the connection between geography and genius. I'll be trying to figure out why some places have proved so conducive to creative breakthroughs. It will contain lots of history, biography, travel and, of course, humor.
IJNet: Do you have lessons learned during the process of writing your books that you can share with other journalists who are thinking of writing a book?
EW: First of all, and I hate to quote from Nike but I think they said it best: Just do it! I've met many journalists who say they would love to write a book if only the had enough time or enough money or the "right" idea or any number of other reasons.
Ultimately, though, none of these reasons should hold you back if you are determined. But be forewarned: While it's wonderful to be free of the pressure of daily deadlines, it can also be confusing. Those deadlines provided structure in your life. Without them, you have to create your own structure. That's not easy. I try to set "mini-deadlines" for myself by, for instance, writing a certain number of words each day. Finally, I would say this: have fun. Writing a book need not be torture--at least not all the time. If you approach the project with a sense of joy and even whimsy, then that will come across on the page, and readers will respond.
Photo: Eric Weiner, copyright: Chuck Berman.