Choosing a Topic for Your Book

If you are planning to come out with your first book, what topic should you write about? I always thought I would come out with a collection of my best blog entries or maybe a collection of Philippine travel write-ups but as one of my favorite writers Conrado de Quiros says, sometimes, topics have a way of choosing you.

So, as I type this, I am waiting for my first book to be ready — a book on motherhood, stewardship, and life in general. I look at those topics and realize that there are things that you must remember before you start writing anything:

1. Choose a topic that you are passionate about: Writing takes time and effort. If you are going to spend hours and hours writing, you might as well enjoy it. If you are not excited about the topic you have chosen, writing might turn out to be a burden. I wrote the book Mom’s A Stewardess over a period of five months: October 2007 to February 2008. I usually wrote late at night (I did have a regular day job) and during weekends. As early as August 2007 though, I was already mulling the topic in my head, writing down ideas here and there, and just organizing my thoughts by outlining and re-arranging them in my head and on paper.

One person, so far, has already asked me how long it took me to write my book. I said five months. She was quite surprised that it was pretty fast, considering that I had to work in an office and take care of my family. People I was conversing with then concluded that I “must have been on fire.” You need passion, first and foremost.

2. Choose a topic that you have some knowledge of: Personal experience is the best teacher for writing a book. Sure, you could read about a topic, here and there; or write down your take or opinion on what other people have said here and there too but what will distinguish your book from other books on the same topic? You must put your stamp on it. It must be uniquely you. It can only be so if you go beyond theory and share stories. Stories from your life. Stories from your own experiences. You and I may eat in the same restaurant, for example, and eat the same food, but my dining experience will never be exactly like yours. It is in the act of finding what is unique to you and in you and writing about it that true joy will be found.

3. Choose a topic that will be of use to others: If you are the only one who will enjoy reading your stories, will the book sell? If people don’t make a connection or don’t find themselves in what you have written, will everything make sense? I don’t think so. You must write about something that other people will find useful. That other people will learn from and appreciate. You must write something which has a pretty good chance to get people to think, to reflect, and to change…for the better.

I was talking to Ms. Rica Bolipata Santos, award-winning creative writer and regular columnist of the Philippine Star, about writing in general and how I thought her essays were super personal, when she told me: “The challenge of every writer is to make the personal, universal.”

It can never really be just about you. I agree, we are all interesting people and we all have good stories to share. Some of us may be more willing to share stories than others. As we write though, we must keep in mind that others must be able to relate to our stories, that they are able to take something away and make our ideas their own in the way that they live their lives better. They must be able to look into our faces and feel as if we have known them from way back.

So go ahead, plan your first book. Every dream begins with a plan and a well-chosen topic. Or a topic that chooses its writer.

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