Usually around the time that the writing team presents the full-book outline, we have to address some big questions with our authors. They see the breakdown of chapters, they see the inclusion of their personal narratives, they see mention of potentially chronicling their early life—a distant and seemingly irrelevant time in their lives. Some authors are caught off guard, hesitant to feel totally comfortable with this idea.
How much of me is going into this book and how much of me do I want in there? Who’s going to care?
Is my story unique?
Do I even have a story?
It’s an expected and treatable case of the mid-life book writing crisis, in which walking the line between personal narrative and applicable message for the readership feels daunting, overwhelming. Many times, symptoms include hesitation, apprehension to delve into detail about childhood, and avoidance of all things personal. Understandably, they don’t want it to seem that they are writing a sob story, begging for sympathy, or appearing self-indulgent.
Without that unique personal element, though, couldn't any old Joe write this book? Anyone with an agenda, ideas, heck, two thoughts to rub together in their head could be writing this book. A robot could write it. What makes the RTC book writing process unique is that there is a real person with a real story that wants to make a real impact. Essentially, this person is someone who, at some point, has thought, I’ve lived and I’ve conquered something awesome in my own little corner of the world, and now I want to share how I did that with the world. Our job is pulling that initial impetus back out, reinforcing the human experience, and keeping the book out of the Robot Memoir genre.
For just a moment, I’d like for you to imagine walking through your Barnes and Noble and coming up to a new section titled: “Biography: Robot” a subsection with a sign, “Memoir of an Automatic Mechanical Device,” with book titles such as, Bot: The Tale Through Electric Circuitry. You pause, shocked and intrigued that they’ve managed to write such a thing, and you ask yourself, what on earth is it they are chronicling? Aren't robots simply programmed machines, moving and acting as they are told without personal agency, emotion, or thoughtful response? Seems correct. You continue to investigate the strange situation before you, picking up a few books in this aisle and reading their jacket descriptions.
The first is about the struggles one bot encounters trying to retain all the programmed information at once. This bot was on overdrive. The next is one robot’s personal narrative that traces the difficulty in keeping all parts in sync—moving it’s large metal body across the threshold to the house, maneuvering over carpet and tile floors of the house. You know, the usual robot woes. Each book was approaching the tales of success and/or failure, and they were mechanical in structure and form. By their very nature, the robot narratives were pre-programmed and could have been written by a machine. In the whole bunch of bot memoirs, there was not a single tale of love or loss, finding one’s life purpose, of overcoming defeat, or arriving at self-worth. Where were the stories that inspired reflection, introspection, re-evaluation of self?
There are very practical reasons why such books don’t exist, and why robots are not asked to share their stories. Put simply, they don't have them. They don’t have a lifetime of moments behind them. They don’t ask introspective questions of themselves, and then seek the answers through conscientious evaluation. They are lacking a soul to measure the value in all the good and bad that they’ve encountered throughout the years. As far as I know, there is only one species capable of exploring the self, looking in and then sharing outward about what they saw, how they changed, where they want to go. So far, only humans can do this hard, personal work.
At the Table we seek these stories, chase them, follow them down a dark alley if we must, and then we sit with them and turn them into a whole collection of stories. The collection becomes one’s journey—a path from point A to point B—the people that helped them get there, the lessons they learned at the rest stops, the value in forgiving, persevering, and becoming some better version of you during the second half of the ride.
So, when you get to those crossroads, and you’re wondering why do I have to share my story? Can’t I just hide behind some of these largely rotund, safe, pillars for social change, entrepreneurial guidance, or broad self-help statutes? I say, no, no you cannot, because you are not made of steel, bolts, and wires. You have more. Whatever it was that made you feel that you needed to share your story in the first place, go back there. That moment displayed a unique bravery and for a moment, you recognized and accepted your role in sharing your story. You are justified in sharing your story, nothing more, nothing sterilized, and nothing less.