104 days to Release Day.
One of the early working titles of my book was Confessions of a Social Entrepreneur. Father, forgive me, but as an art form, I find this blog thing challenging.
It reminds me, in a way, of when I first set out to write what became The Handbook. I had beenplaying with the idea of writing a non-fiction book for several years, and had even begun to make notes in a file called Building the Modern Non-Profit: Memoirs of a Man who Tried to Do Good. I was convinced that, having co-founded FINCA with John Hatch, my partner in a consulting firm called Rural Development Services, Inc, and having served as it’s CEO for 15 years, I knew something about the topic.
I felt I could write pretty well, too, having honed my style and voice on four novels, one of which was published in El Salvador, in Spanish, in 2008.
But when it came down to actually beginning the project, I couldn’t decide how to proceed. With my novels, it was always a process of writing them and then trying to sell them. With non-fiction, you first did a proposal, shopped that, landed a contract with a publisher, and only then invested the time in actually writing the book.
That was when I made the best decision of my writing career. I decided to go about it as I would any business project: call someone I knew who had been successful at it, and get their advice.
I called my friend, Alex Counts, who heads the Grameen Foundation, another microfinance network, who had published two non-fiction books about his experience with the Grameen Bank. He referred me to his agent, who referred me to another agent, Jessica Papin at Dystel & Goderich Literary Management.
Jessica worked with me for over a year on the proposal. She talked me out of doing a memoir; she said it was a “crowded shelf”, and that we should go with a business book. I did a first iteration of the proposal, and her reaction was “Well, maybe you are an impossible to discourage memoirist.” We eventually reached a compromise: I would do a business book, but would include my anecdotes in “Swag Boxes” which would illustrate the lesson learned or point I was trying to make.
The other thing I struggled with was working within the confines of a non-fiction book. As a novelist, I felt at times as if I were wearing a straight jacket. Stick to the facts, I had to keep reminding myself.
Meanwhile, back at the blog….
I haven’t forgotten I owe you an answer on the timing question. I could have taken the cowardly/prudent approach and waited for retirement to write it. Two problems with that. For one, retirement for me will probably be synonymous with The Big Chill. I love FINCA and my work too much to imagine life without it. My role in the organization could and probably will change over time, but my commitment (addiction) will not.
Second, FINCA works in dangerous places. I have been fortunate, so far, and cheated death a number of times. In fact, I have persuaded myself that as long as I remain faithful to my mission and continue to live a useful life I will somehow be protected. But if I’m wrong, I don’t want to have departed without having shared some of the valuable lessons my colleagues and I have accumulated over the years that could be of use to my fellow aspiring social entrepreneurs.
Getting back to the challenges of this new “art” form. One of the biggest, for me, after just two days, is figuring out where to stop.
So I think I’ll just……stop.
See you next time.