what your book might do

Good morning, writers — how’s today’s creative possibility holding you? Have you already put pen to the page, fingers to keyboard? Have you released the words that built up in you in the night?
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Today’s post comes out a write from a recent Dive Deep meeting; the prompt was an excerpt from this post on the Ploughshares blog: “Write As If…”

Here’s what I wrote:

Write as if this book is the one someone needs.

Maybe not everyone. Maybe it won’t be a runaway bestseller. Maybe the big agent will turn their nose, maybe the big publisher will get wowed by some other story. No matter. You find a younger agent, a smaller publisher, your book makes a little splash but maybe Terry Gross doesn’t call.

Your book, still, gets added to bookshelves at bookstores and libraries. Some people read it. They highlight sections and fold down the corners of pages. They keep your words next to them on the bedside table. They will loan the book around to their friends, saying “Listen, you’ve got to read this – check out this part right here…” and they will pull the book or essay or story open to their favorite paragraphs, the ones you struggled so hard over, or the ones you flung out and thought no one would probably ever even read.

Their friends will ask to borrow your book and won’t return it.

Maybe the book won’t top the New York Times bestseller list – but your book is your honest offering, and will, when it reaches out into the world, change the possibilities available to your readers’ lives. This is true whether you’re writing fiction or nonfiction, poetry or prose, journalism or fantasy. Your book will do big work, whether on a smaller or larger scale; it simply needs you to get it out there. Your readers need you to get it out there.

Maybe you will have modest sales – maybe you will get invited to do some readings, and maybe not as many as you’d hoped. Still, one day someone in despair or confusion or grief will be working their slow way through the library stacks during their sophomore year in college; they will pull your book from the shelf, sit down on the rolling stepstool, open your book and begin to read. Your words will move into them, and they will find themselves changed. This person will likely never be able to communicate this to you – how your words met them at exactly the right moment and offered them hope or strength or possibility or laughter or some precise sense of witness — withness. How they understood that they were not alone because of your words in that book.

This is the sort of holy transaction between reader and writer that we forget to name, that is almost unspeakable: the love that reaches across time and space, you pushing out with the words you had to write, and that person receiving them may be years later, overwhelmed with gratitude for the person you are right now who undertook the enormous effort to make these words available for them.

I want you to write now, and write as if you need that person as much as they need you –

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Give yourself at least twenty minutes today, and write as if — write as if you already have an agent, already spoke to your ideal publisher, already know your book is going to find a home somewhere. Or (more important as far as I’m concerned) write as if you can see that someone who might need your story, your essay, your book one day — write to them. Write it.

Thank you for the generosity of your offerings today. Thank you for your words.

One response to “what your book might do

  1. marie-francoise

    What a lovely post! Just what I needed to hear. I’ve been beating myself up for not having completed my memoir yet after working on it intermittently for the last 10 (omg!!!) years. I can’t seem to get it done and feel like a total failure. I just realized how long I’ve been at it and not accomplished a damn thing. It feels infuriating and frustrating that I can’t just get. it. done. And move on with my life…..
    But the points you made make all kinds of sense. I think I got scared or didn’t feel I was worthy to tell my own story. Or I deserved to. Or that no one will read it anyway and it will be just another failure. So I started listening to all the negative voices in my head and stopped writing. I’ve been suffering from a horrible case of writer’s block for years. Maybe now I can muster the courage to begin again and see it all the way to the end, no matter what that may look like. I can stop listening to mental phantoms and start writing my truth again. At least I’m willing to try. Actually starting right now — responding to this post is the first writing I’ve done in a long long time. Thank you. Sending you much love and care.
    Namaste,
    Marie-Françoise
    (PS. Oh, how I wish you were closer to or based in LA! 🙂