When your twelfth grade teacher approaches you and says, “That essay your wrote about the pressures of taking an exam was so well written. I’m putting together a little book of some student essays, I’d like to include yours.” Say no or pretend you didn’t write it, admit that you plagiarized it even though you didn’t.
Remember when you attended film and broadcasting school and you wrote this haunting piece about letting your lover go, but it was sort of silly and strange to write such a thing for a mere speech writing class, yet you did it anyway. Your teacher decides to videotape you reading it, to replay it for other students as a demonstration of sound speaking and writing skills, so you skip that day on purpose because you actually wrote it about a guy in your class that you’d been sleeping with on and off, but deep in your guts you really, really like him, and you were so sure he’d know the speech was about him, that you just couldn’t face the entire class watching you articulate these feelings, but the next day he stops you between classes and claims your speech was the most eloquent thing he’d ever heard in his life, so you take him home, but you probably should have dumped him right there and enrolled in law school.
While you shake your wet hands under the automatic hand dryer in the restroom and your classmate from writing class is approaching you, turn away. Her expression is hinting that she will interrupt your task. As your hands drip with water she begins to gush, exclaiming that she loves your writing so much, that it affects her immensely and golly gee, this class has been spectacular to meet other writers. Mumble out a thanks and scramble out of there as fast as you can. Even though you drive 30 minutes to get there after a strenuous day at work, pour tirelessly over writing assignments – it’s inconsequential. Quit the class.
Eventually you leave that job and start a travel focused blog that a few people read and sometimes they actually email you privately and compliment the hell out of your writing voice. Perfect strangers! They say you keep it real, that your writing is simultaneously honest and lyrical. Be weary. Because these complete strangers are right up in your blog face, telling you — write a book. Anyone that can string two words together is on the bandwagon, why aren’t you? So you tell your closest friends and they say heck yeah, we’ve been suggesting you do this for years.
You start to grow a bravery shield and begin submitting full length pieces to magazines. You think, this isn’t so difficult, until you muse on this magazine and comb every single profile of the contributors. Not a sensible idea. You slump over your keyboard with resignation reading the hateful. The hurtful. PhD in Literature, MFA in English, Literature Department, published in such-such literary anthology, professor of literature at blah blah university, wondering the myriad ways a single entity can incorporate the word literature — realizing it’s plenty. Realizing that what you know about literature is merely a word that you’ve just typed out. You stupidly log onto Amazon and absorb all the reviews on books in your genre and wince in pain at the ones that slash, shred apart an author’s work with 300 words or less. Or you seethe with envy at the authors garnering 61 reviews of praise. You compare, analyze, then send panicked emails to your editor and sorrowfully regret not changing your major to double double literature, hating yourself for eating those copycat Chinese Oreos you found at the local store, until you cry yourself into a state between alertness and unconsciousness.
Pretty quickly it’s apparent that you are not connected, qualified or the professor of anything. That writing a book is vulnerable, a naked, horrible process of self-doubt that sticks to you like humidity, keeps you awake at night. Like a slow acting poison, you begin to curse those people who told you to write a book. How you should have ignored them, slammed a door in their face, told them to go bother someone else.
By 3:00 am, fully awake and tossing in bed, the duvet tangled in your legs, you stop moving. Night falls over a city and forces you to listen. The silence descending. An urgent, aching truism glowing in the dark. So you have neither an agent or a book deal. Nor a grand reputation to push you through a publisher’s door. What you do have is a burning inside. A strong compulsion to craft sonatas with words, mold literary sculptures, to do what makes your heart beat the fastest, even against sober reality. That you’d still write until they have to pry the pen from your cold, dead hand. What you lack in presence, you make up with in passion. The āga. The fire within.
So when they tell you to write a book. Listen.