The process of writing a book can be challenging, but it’s good

It’s easy to dismiss the work of first-time or lesser-known writers as outliers. Whether you’re a journalism pro or novice, though, the work of a first-time author can be illuminating, and a first book can change how you look at the world and, ultimately, how you write. I wrote my first book almost 20 years ago, and the payoff is still pretty much endless. I can’t tell you exactly what the payoff is, but it’s extremely valuable to be able to tell my own story, and to look at it from another perspective.

Of course, no two first books are alike, and your experience and reaction may differ. I also doubt there is a single model or formula for success. But you do have to feel a bit of apprehension at the first time you read a first book. This reminds me of the piece I wrote about Joel Salatin — a bearded happy farmer from rural Virginia — when he wrote his own book, “The Omnivore’s Dilemma.” Yes, you probably already know the story, but you’re as anxious as everyone else that something so hedonistic — and so incisively written — is going to go awry.

One of the many delights of the Salatin and Doe restaurant story was how the critical reception didn’t hold back Joel’s beliefs; in fact, we gained respect and admiration for his blind faith in the scientific truth of his beliefs. I always read the second report.

One of the main reasons the Salatin story was so easy to report was because we’d interviewed Joel in person four times, and we’d gone to the farm and talked to all the family members and played with their kids. When he told us he wanted to write a book, we knew it wouldn’t be easy, but we also knew that writing a nonfiction book was hard, that we could get into trouble if we didn’t try.

With the Salatin story, you know what’s in it, and if you’re right, it will be fun to read. The writing is always that much more powerful because of the tale, and there’s always that possibility that we’ll get something right. And if we get it wrong, you get to put it down and see how Joel responds later on.

Of course, you may be intimidated by the story and afraid to mess up because it’s so important to the person who’s telling it. But just know that you’re sharing this book with the world, and you get to look at it as they do, as his readers. If they enjoy it, it’s usually because they did their best to understand and empathize with the story and its author.

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