I love to talk about writing, and always appreciate it when people I meet want to discuss my books with me. What’s funny is how often in these conversations I hear the same comments. Some people express how interested they are, then immediately feel the need to explain why they don’t have time to read. I’ve heard several times that someone started one of my books and became convinced that heroine must be me, because I write fiction in the first person. But the most common remark I hear, and I’m sure other writers get this as well, is: “You know, I feel like I have a book in me too, but…”
“I feel like I have a book in me, but I just haven’t come up with a good idea for it.”
“I feel like I have a book in me, but I don’t have time to write.”
“I’ve always felt like I have a book in me, but I just don’t know how to start.”
I can understand. For many years I didn’t do much creative writing, and yet secretly hankered to be an author. I wrote occasional stories, I wrote journals and poetry, but the idea of creating an entire novel seemed impossibly difficult. Now that I’ve managed to write 11 books (10 that I’m not too ashamed to publish), however, I find I’m a little disconcerted by the “there’s a book in me” comment. Not because I don’t empathize with wanting to be a writer in the face of all the challenges it presents. I’m disconcerted because the speaker invariably sticks that “but” in the middle of the sentence, stopping the book before it starts. As I see it, through my small sliver of experience, the ONLY obstacle to this hypothetical book is the fact that this person hasn’t started to write it.
I’m not saying everyone is meant to be a writer, nor that by sitting down to write you’re going to write something good, whatever “good” means to you. But simply that if you truly believe there’s a book in you, why aren’t you writing it? More to the point, why aren’t you writing anything? I’ve started to follow up this comment with encouraging noises and some form of the question, “Do you write for fun?” And the answer is always “No.” No time, no ideas, too little training, too many expectations, too much pressure to succeed, too much fear of failure. Many people don’t start because they’re intimidated by the publishing process. Many assure me that they would write if they could.
Well, I’m here to tell you that you can. If you’re meant to write, you’ll find a way to write. Even with a full-time job and small children and dozens of daily pressures, writing will find its way in. And if you’re not meant to write, if maybe there isn’t a book in you after all, it’s really not such a terrible thing. Writing is full of pitfalls and criticism and self-doubts. It’s the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done, and also the hardest. The high of finishing a book is insanely cool—but the highs are just one part of it. There are also the lows when I’m stuck in the middle of a story, out of ideas and afraid I’ll never finish, or when I see a review by a reader who hated my work. I’ll probably never be a “successful” author as the industry defines it, in that I may not ever be a bestseller, win awards, have my book rights bought by Hollywood or even support myself by writing. I don’t have an agent and I self-publish, which automatically brands me as small-time. And I don’t mind one bit, because I’m doing what I love most.
I believe that if you’re meant to write, the success you could achieve isn’t the point. The joy of writing is what drives you, the need to pull words together in a cohesive way, to develop arguments or plots or realities. You might also make millions and be the next Stephen King, but if that’s your goal, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment and strain before you begin. Even if you produce a book, there’s no guarantee that you’ll find an agent, get published or achieve those highest ambitions.
If you’re one of those people who like to say you have a book in you, and don’t follow the remark by “…so I’m writing/researching/outlining every chance I get about anything I can think of until that book is ready to come into being” or some variation on this, maybe you don’t actually have a book in you right now. Maybe you will in 10 years. Maybe you have short stories and poetry and essays in you. Whatever the case, the surefire way to stop yourself is to let high expectations become obstacles and “but” yourself away from what you really want.
Occasionally people ask me for advice about writing. When I get through the shock and humility of being asked this question, I repeat what many great authors (who have earned far greater right to give advice than I have) say: Write. If you want to write, write. Don’t worry if it’s not critically “good” or even if it’s awful. Write, and keep writing, and enjoy every challenging, joyful, creative second of the process. Don’t worry if you don’t finish most of what you start. Just keep starting again, keep allowing yourself to be inspired. Be whatever kind of writer you’re going to be, and maybe you’ll get published, or maybe you’ll self-publish, or maybe you’ll give it to your grandchildren to read one day. Try different styles and listen to your gut and to trusted readers. And just keep writing.
Maybe there is a book in all of us. If yours is ready to break free, don’t let anything stop it—least of all yourself.