I have spent three weeks trying to finish two beautifully written books, one by David Mamet and one by Simon Winchester. Such writing leaves me alternately inspired and despairing: Look what a person can do with words! I will never be able to do that with words!
(Aside: This is also why I do not read books of speeches very often. For a real lesson in what a person can do with words, with actual historical consequences, I suggest this link, where the orations are chosen based on style, substance, and impact.)
(Aside to the aside: If you leave out factual historical impact, then there’s probably no greater bit of rhetoric ever written than Shakespeare’s amazing Crispin’s Day speech in Henry V.)
Anyway, these fellows know their stuff, both on the wordsmithing side and on their topics of choice. I admire the tenacity displayed in having done their homework at least as much as I admire their language skills.
Honestly, some days I wake up and think, “I want to be the world expert in something,” but then realize that while I have a pretty varied range of interests, I have no idea how to choose a single topic I might care enough about to drop everything else and put in the work required to become a world expert.
For example, I have days where I think I would like to know more than anyone else about the Israel-Palestinian conflict. But I know I won’t, because even if I could somehow gin up the time and attention required to ingest hundreds of years of history (plus maps), I tend to get lost in those dusty tomes and I tend to get angry reading contemporary accounts. Plus, no matter how much I know about it, there’s no way I’m going to be as much of an expert as someone who actually, you know, lives in Israel and sees it every day.
So then I think, maybe I should go for being the world expert on chocolate? But that’s pretty hard to do because Hershey and Cadbury and chefs and SO MUCH COMPETITION.
So then I decide maybe I shouldn’t be a world expert, maybe I should just go around poking the existing World Expert Bears with sticks to get a rise out of them and see what they say. Except I don’t personally know all that many world experts, so the bears I end up poking tend to be unsatisfyingly inexpert/misinformed/hesitant to express a firm opinion because someone might be offended/interested in advancing an agenda rather than pursuing an honest examination of a subject/just want me to shut up so they can get back to their caves and their salmon. So I form my own opinion based on this relative dearth of information and move on to the next thing.
Maybe I just miss journalism. Or maybe I need a new project. But thinking about a new project puts me back at the first phase of the cycle: What topic holds enough interest for me to put in all that time and effort?
And then I realize that my day job plus parenting commitments are eating up 18–20 hours a day at the moment, and I decide that these are my areas of expertise, at least for now. And I also realize why it is taking me more than three weeks to finish reading two books.
(Update: six new publishers queried, two form rejections, and one absolutely lovely response from a real person who is clearly working through a pile of proposals and will respond when mine reaches the top.)