Believing in What You Write

Many years ago, I published a novel. It was the third novel I’d written, but the first I’d published. I loved the book. I was excited about it in a way I had not been about my first two books. The story’s voice sounded more like me than anything else I’d written. Once I’d found the story’s true beginning, the plot seemed to fall together on its own. It took place in the 1800’s, and I found myself happy to do the kind of exhaustive research I had not been willing to do for my second book, which had been set during Prohibition. The first agent I showed it to at a writer’s conference snatched it up immediately. I was thrilled. I’d never had a real agent. In fact, I’d spent the first seven or eight years of my nascent writing career thinking how much better life would be if only I had an agent. Now I did. She was eager to send it out. Great, I said. Strangely, I couldn’t really imagine a big New York publisher actually buying it. But this was all new to me, and I wasn’t going to worry about what I couldn’t imagine.

My agent sent it out, and it came back. The editors had many complimentary things to say, but it wasn’t . . . quite . . . right. I would eventually find a tiny publisher whom I basically convinced to publish it. I had no idea if they actually liked it. When the book finally came out, after many unexplained delays, it was littered with typos, I was paid half of what I was owed, and I received exactly two copies, which I stuck on my shelf and tried to forget existed. I no longer loved the book. It was an embarrassment.

Ten years later, I found myself pulling a copy off the shelf and reading the first page. A lot had changed for me in those ten years. For instance, I no longer believed that my life would be better if only I had an agent. Also, ten years is a fantastic buffer for a writer’s memory. I had forgotten enough about the book that I could read it almost as if a stranger had written it. To my surprise, I liked it. I kept reading. I still liked it. If I had found it on a shelf in a bookstore, I’d have bought it. Period.

It ought to have been published by one of those New York publishers, I thought to myself. But I couldn’t be bitter about how it was published. I never really believed it would be published, and so, for all practical purposes, it wasn’t. My experience matched my belief perfectly. I found this comforting as I returned the book to its place on my shelf beside all the other books written by friends and strangers. I no longer believe in luck or talent or even hard work.

I believe in perception.

I will never be able to prove that what I believed, while sitting in my office in Seattle, somehow influenced an editor in her office in New York. It makes no logical sense. But I do know that I cannot write a single sentence unless I believe my story is interesting, or exciting, or profound. And I know that I cannot write about love if I am feeling hateful, and I cannot write something funny if I am feeling sad. And I know that if I perceive someone as a friend, they are friendly; and if I perceive them as an enemy, they are not friendly.

And I also know that that the only person’s mind I can change is my own. I have tried mightily to change other people’s minds, but to no avail. I cannot make anyone like what I have written, or buy what I have written, or praise what I have written. All I can do is believe that what I have written is worth sharing, and that continues to make all the difference.


Write Within Yourself: An Author's Companion.

"A book to keep nearby whenever your writer's spirit needs feeding." Deb Caletti.

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