Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Writing a self-help book for men

When I was a teenager, the only self-help books on the shelves were Catholic Truth Society pamphlets such as What Every Boy Should Know and Dale Carnegie’s How to Win friends and Influence People and How to Stop Worrying and Start Living, says my That's Men for You column in today's Irish Times. The column is part of the Irish Times' premium content so I can't reproduce it here. Carnegie’s books, far more fun than Catholic Truth Society pamphlets, had a positive influence on my life and I still sometimes recommend them to counselling clients, the column says.

My own odyssey into self-help authorship began with a request from Veritas to write a book for men and culminates this evening with the launch of Like a Man – a guide to men’s emotional wellbeing.

A major challenge in writing a book like this, I found, is getting the tone of voice right. As I pared down my "just do what I say and you’ll be grand” style, chapter after chapter went to the recycle bin. And when my editor Ruth Garvey tactfully remarked that “I have read books that tend to slip into a slightly condescending tone,” further chapters were trashed.

The last thing that’s needed in a book for men is a condescending tone, not least because men are fed up with being lectured as though they were hapless, hopeless and irresponsible. Traditionally, men have been expected to get on with things without complaining, to go to war without complaining, to do hard and health-damaging work without complaining – and then we are ticked off and lectured for not taking care of ourselves!

Self-help books, if they are to be honest, have to be based on the author’s own faults and mistakes and what he did, should have done or could have done about them. And I am blessed with having had, and still having, many faults from which to learn! If only I had read What Every Boy Should Know before it was too late.....

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