Perhaps you have children. Remember when you were trying to conceive, and you thought it was only about getting pregnant? Or how about when you were pregnant, and it was only about having a baby? Then the baby was born and all your expectations were obliterated in the first week of terror and chaos. But I only wanted a baby, you might have inwardly wailed, as if you could straighten out a terribly mixed-up order. What you got was a life, a whole new wonderful awful horrible miserable magnificent life – yours– that you could never have imagined before.
We never quite arrive at the outcome that we have in mind, because nothing is quite what we think it is. It is so much more, and it keeps going!
Before too long we forget about the outcome and focus instead on tending the baby before us with compassionate care, and without expecting any result or gain. (I’m raising a daughter. We’re both happy I don’t think I’m raising a pianist.)
The book you’re thinking about? It’s not about the book. There might well be a book that surfaces some day, a couple hundred pages pressed between two cardboard ends, but writing a book isn’t about a book. The book is a word for your life, the vast, unknowable dynamic process of turns and trips and thumps, that transforms you as you go along, as you go along becoming more of yourself. Somewhere along this road, somewhere well after you begin and before you end, you might finally be born as a storyteller and a writer; you might arrive at an authentic voice, an enlivened heart. You might finally see, in the very light of your day and in the words on your screen, that you have something to say. And that only you could say it.
But if you think you know that before you start out, I will say with unwavering emphasis: You are wrong. It’s true that mechanistic and unartful things get written that way: by the book. And there are probably 99,000 mechanistic and unartful books published every year. But that’s not what you aim to write, do you? Leave that to the experts!
You stand before a stove with a soup pot and a spoon. What will you put in? Everything you’ve got. How will it taste? You’ll find out as you go along. How will you know what’s next? You’ll know it when you see it. How long will it take? Long past the time you get hungry but before you’re dead. How do I start? You already have.
If you happen to have read this far and you aren’t writing a book, know for a fact that you are. Everyone is writing a book. And the book is called your life. You are the writer and you are the reader, and – no flipping to the last page first! – you don’t know how it will end.
This week we’re talking about writing. Send me your questions, and we’ll turn them into something you can swallow.