Wole Soyinka

Want to be a star? DON’T write that Autobiography!

A Book. The non-fiction variety, especially. It does one thing exceptionally well. If you write one, for instance, it helps you record your accomplishment and secure your legacy. 

You know what they say about history. It is written by the winners. And, history becomes canon when it is recorded in written form. 

Let’s say you come back in the year 2122 and you want to know who the thought leaders were a hundred years prior; someone may show you this post of mine — and bam, just like that, you may conclude that Sam Adeoye was a phenomenal thinker, a dude of monumental intellectual veracity, a man blessed with a giant of a brain who championed the cause of independent creatives and consultants in Africa. Please say that about me, please. Please?

So, now you feel like writing a book. Because, of course, you’ve made some achievements and you’d like your own personal first draft of history. Like me, you want to be remembered for doing something cool. What kind of book should you write?

I’ll tell you.

Don’t write an autobiography. 

Not to be a killjoy or anything but an autobiography is like a bound copy of your ego trip. Plus, there are a million autobiographies already written. I have like two dozen of them. 

Someone retires, writes an autobiography. 

Someone clocks 60, writes an autobiography.

The same person clocks 70, updates that autobiography — with another autobiography. 

Someone marries a second wife, writes an autobiography. 

I don’t read them. It’s hard. Because as insanely unique as you think your own story is, the themes of life are common to millions of other people, particularly on the slice of universe where you’ve spent your days. 

But, even if you think I’m wrong and you insist on publishing your own vanity almanac, could you please consider these two alternatives before you do:

Number one: write a memoir. No, a memoir is not the same as an autobiography. While an autobiography recaps the author’s entire life, a memoir’s focus is on a part of the writer’s life.

Autobiographies are about facts and dates; memoirs are about larger themes, internal triumphs and personal discoveries.

If you write an autobiography, the general idea is that you’re famous or important or both famous and important — a VVIP. So, now you get what I meant when I said ‘ego’ and ‘vanity’. Let’s be humble a little, shall we? 

On the other hand, anyone can write a memoir. It’s sort of like a novel (with its themes and characters and all), written by an eye witness. 

My favourite memoir of all time is this: Angela’s Ashes. It was written by Frank McCourt, an unknown Irish-American high school English teacher. When Mr McCourt was growing up Ireland, the kind of poverty which he lived through will most likely qualify as your own idea of hell on earth. But he tells the story so beautifully, so hilariously.

Angela’s Ashes was so incredibly brilliant that it won a Pulitzer. And then they made the book into a movie — which won an Oscar for something. 

Let’s pour one out for Mr McCourt… two fingers to the lips and then pointed at the sky. RIP, Chief. You inspired a lot of us.

My point? Memoirs are great.

And then there is the greatest of them all: The Life Lessons. 

It’s a super-distilled memoir. 

It’s also a manual for those coming behind you. It’s easy to read, because the chapters form a list of lessons you’ve taken in life or business or both. From each chapter’s title, the reader immediately catches the concept you are about to discuss. And because of this, they don’t have to read the book chronologically. Which is perfect for this ADHD generation whose attention must be divided among pressing issues like trending twitter hashtags, the hottest gossip on Instagram, and the day’s most inflammatory political posts on Facebook.

Life Lessons will satisfy both that natural craving to sound important while also teaching people something. It’s also easier to sell a book when it promotes an idea larger than one person. In fact, your life lessons book could spontaneously become a prescribed text in universities. I doubt if your autobiography can do that. You’re not Winston Churchill. 

That said, these are some of my best-in-class life lessons ever written for this generation:

Principles by the billionaire hedge fund manager Ray Dalio. Large book with some tough languaging. But as I said, no need to read it chronologically.

The Hard Thing About Hard Things. Although the chapters aren’t numbered, it’s a life lesson book. 

No Rules Rules. Nice read. Flows. Shows you how Reed Hastings and his crew run Netflix. 

I Can’t Make This Up: Life Lessons by Kevin Hart. Who knew Kevin could be this insightful! I love the book.

So, there you go. 

Now, you’re asking me: Sam, is it time to write a book? Of course, it is time, what do you mean is it time to write a book? Of course, it is time. You’re alive, aren’t you? Absolutely yes, it is time. Let me know how I can help ya.

Best regards.

PS: This post has no connection whatsoever to Prof Wole Soyinka. I’ve never even met the man. But he does add some gravitas to the article, don’t you think?

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I poke at ideas to see what's inside. A lot of times I generate my own. Sometimes, people pay for those ideas. And, obviously, I like to tell stories about creativity.

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