SIMPLY HAPPY, A CHICKEN SOUP FOR THE SOUL BOOK
by: Noelle Sterne
Most of us have heard of or have read, and probably crave to get published in, one of the Chicken Soup for the Soul (CS) books. They follow a successful formula. Each has a specific theme with stories by contributors, writers at all levels, of their experiences and insights. The stories are about 1,200 words long, easy to read, with one or more life lessons, and most often a motivating lift.
Simply Happy, though, is a hybrid, the first of its kind in the series. Amy Newmark, the author, has been the peerless editor of the CS series for eight years and has produced over 100 volumes during that time (an amazing feat). In this book, Amy has accomplished what she has long desired to do (sound familiar?)—write a CS book of her own.
She follows the formula—sort of. Short chapters, each with a lesson and inspiration. But the differences are what make this book unique—and the book provides not only life lessons but writing lessons, especially for nonfiction authors.
Newmark’s purpose is telegraphed in the subtitle: “A Crash Course in Chicken Soup for the Soul Advice and Wisdom.” No guessing about her point. It’s clear and promising. For your own self-help book, practice writing out, and refining your main point.
Each of the twenty-six chapters has catchy, funny, or provocative titles. Chapter 2, “A Smile Is a Boomerang”; Chapter 12, “My Mother Is an Alien”; Chapter 19, “The Power of No.” Like the other CS books, we can scan the table of contents and flip to whatever appeals or meets our need at a given moment. As authors, we can hone our chapter titles for wit, creativity, and similar reader captivation.
Extremely appropriate in a nonfiction self-help book, in Simply Happy every chapter has a direct takeaway nugget (and a handy recap in the “Afterword”). For Chapter 2 on smiles: “”They’re free, they’re easy, and they change your whole day.” For Chapter 12 on questionable motherhood: “Dare to be different when raising children.” For Chapter 19 on no-ing: “De-clutter your calendar and home to make room for what matters.” We can quickly seize such forthright directives, one lesson at a time, and start or continue to change our lives for the better. In your book, what are the nuggets you want your readers to take away?
Writing Lesson 4: Give Credit
Newmark doesn’t just sermonize, though. She gives credit for reaching her own greater insights. This too sets her CS book apart. Within every chapter, she relates stories from previous CS books that have moved her and she has learned from. She names names, reprints bios in the back, and generously praises other authors. (Disclaimer: She alludes to one of my stories, about friends and frenemies, and I am thankful.)
Combined with what Amy has learned from others, her transparency is unflinching. In the context of each chapter, she shares her life, humanness, and frailties: her acknowledged one percenter status living in a “pretty fancy town,” her messy clothes closet, mistakes raising her children, her “normal” marriage (she doesn’t reply to her husband’s questions until he“’needs to know’ because he won’t listen to my answers anyway.”). What can you share with your readers about yourself?
Amy’s tone is of mutuality. We may not have a swimming pool like she does (a to-be-envied rarity in the Northeast). But she shows us that, whatever one’s “privileges,” we all need goals and meaning. For her, the meaning is in the CS books and “changing the world, one story at a time,” as the website proclaims. She also shows us that she gives back. She volunteers in neighborhood activities, opening herself to criticism from other demanding one percenters.
As readers and writers we can identify with Amy’s passion, goals, dedication, hard work (few weekends off), and absolute caring about the written word. She also expresses great generosity and gratitude for others (good reminders to us)—her husband and family, friends, CS team, and business experiences. Express your gratitude to the people and events who have helped you grow and are now sharing in your book. Everyone wins.
So, I recommend Simply Happy—it’s a great gift for yourself and for others. Personally, you’ll learn a lot, will be encouraged to reflect on your own life, and gain tips and ideas for greater satisfaction and even happiness. Professionally as a writer, you’ll become more aware of the ingredients for a truly helpful, popular, and successful nonfiction book—and you may be inspired to start this book you’ve always wanted to write!
NOELLE STERNE Author, editor, writing coach and soother, dissertation nurturer, and spiritual counselor, Noelle Sterne publishes writing craft, spiritual articles, essays, and stories in print and online publications. With a Ph.D. from Columbia University, Noelle assists doctoral candidates in completing their dissertations (finally). Based on her practice, her current handbook addresses these students’ largely overlooked but equally important nonacademic difficulties. Challenges in Writing Your Dissertation: Coping with the Emotional, Interpersonal, and Spiritual Struggles (Rowman & Littlefield Education, 2015). In Noelle’s Trust Your Life: Forgive Yourself and Go After Your Dreams (Unity Books, 2011), she helps readers release regrets, relabel their past, and reach lifelong yearnings. Visit Noelle at www.trustyourlifenow.com
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