Tuesday, April 7, 2009

To become an author

I really envy authors like Malcolm Gladwell, Nicholas Taleb, James Michener, actually all of them.

As I read their books, I am overwhelmed by the amount of 'research' that goes into writing. No wonder this is a full time job.

I am reading Outliers now. Unfortunately just before I started on that I read a scathing criticism of Outliers in, guess? Scientific American (April 2004, Vol 4 Number 4). This is by Michael Sermer, who says:

"Journalists unconstrained by research protocols churn out self-help books that focus on select variables that interest them. Few do better than Malcolm Gladwell.

Obviously, I started off Outliers with a biased mindset. But I am half-way through the book. The amount of research done is huge. The supporting evidence dug out to support the thesis of the Outliers is compelling. It is easy to deride such an effort as unscientific. Perhaps, it may be true to a large extent.
But it is also unfair.

I am glad I read Outliers despite my misgivings after reading the Scientific American article. It might be unscientific, but it is pretty damn convincing.

Anyways, coming back to the point. There are 9 chapters in Outliers. Each chapter is supported by on an average 10 reference sources. That makes it about 90 books, journals and internet sources. I am assuming to shortlist these 90 sources, Gladwell must have sifted through 400-500 sources. And this is just a 285 page thick book. Phew!

The interesting questions for Gladwell are:

a) Has Malcolm Gladwell put in his 10,000 hours of hard labour?
b) Did he have the correct opportunity?
c) Is he a product of correct legacy?

The interesting questions for me are:

a) Will I ever write a book?
b) Will I ever write a successful book?

I wouldn't even know where to begin.
And knowing fully well that successful books are Black Swans, I am definitely not going to quit my job to take a plunge.
Perhaps, after I retire.

I therefore need to start now.

The formula to write a non-fiction seems to be

(i) Arrive at a conclusion through random observations.
(ii) Support your observations by reading books in related field. (Don't forget to keep taking notes!)
(iii) Support your observations by reading books in totally unrelated field.
(iv) Try and establish a connection.
(v) Find a publisher.
(vi)I think I am drunk!

And by the way, constrain by research protocols may actually constrain your imagination. Let your imagination fly!

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