Baby Steps Towards a Book
Will I ever write a book?
I don’t know.
The question is never not with me, a double negative if ever there was one.
I live with it, or rather, it lives with me. It comes with me to the bathroom to pee and brush my teeth in the morning. It comes along to the grocery store, the gym, the synagogue, the bookstore. Oh, yes, especially the bookstore. It sleeps naked in my dreams and gives guided tours through houses I’m sure I’ve seen before. It gazes out the window at the late-day light.
Sometimes, when I close my eyes, I think: Maybe it will be easy. I imagine sitting down, starting, and finishing a completed draft in a matter of days. It’s an extreme vision, perhaps. You could say it’s unlikely, that’s not how it works. And you’d probably be right. But I’m not here to talk about what’s likely or sound. I’m here to tell you about the things that move across the sky inside my mind, like so many clouds.
Sometimes, I think: I can’t. I have ruined myself by writing so many small pieces. I don’t know how to sustain a longer narrative. What if I simply don’t have what it takes?
I hear these thoughts and questions and recognize their genus and species: Fear.
It’s always an option to hang out there, you know. You can stay in fear, where it’s safe, where you get to hem and haw and doubt your abilities and worry about how it will go.
What is the fear, really? What is the worst thing that will happen if you sit down and really begin? That you won’t keep going, thus setting yourself up for disappointment and failure? That you will keep going and it will be hard? It will be hard.
But not harder than this place of waiting and wondering.
I often tell clients, you don’t decide to run a marathon and then win a marathon the next day. In fact, it will be many months, years even, of slow and steady training. Maybe you’ll decide it doesn’t actually matter to you to complete a marathon, and that it is ok to be a person who enjoys walking. Maybe you will learn how to sink into the pleasure of being alive without having to be more than you already are.
Or maybe you will say, no, damnit. I want this. And then you will have to build up to it. You will start small. You will probably seek out support and resources and some way of staying accountable. You might consult with some folks who’ve gone the whole distance. What do they wish they had known before that they know now? You will have to sift through all of that outside input to figure out what works for you — your body, your life, your schedule, your work and family obligations.
Writing a book — writing anything, really — is not so different.
You will not sit down and write a Pulitzer-prize winning book in one sitting. But you also won’t write any book, without sitting down, on a regular basis, and plugging away.
I think about writing a memoir about my Jewish journey. I also am not convinced it’s time yet. I have just signed up for a 15-month adult b’nai mitzvah class at my synagogue. A group of us will meet with our rabbi for two hours one Sunday a month to learn and study and prepare for this rite of passage that traditionally occurs at age 13. But, as my son said this morning after services, “You didn’t even know you were Jewish yet.” This is true, and I wonder if it’s one of the stories I have to tell.
It has occurred to me to use the 15-month period as a way of tracking my learning and perhaps starting to fill in some of the “chapters” of my unfolding identity. The fear is that it is too big of a topic. There is a difference between an autobiography and memoir, and I do not want to write the former.
There’s a subtle difference — so subtle as to be energetic — between lying to oneself (i.e. I’m not ready) and truly tuning into what time it is in one’s own life. My intuition is that it’s not time for the book yet, and this demands that I check in to see if I’m letting fear drive the bus.
I’ll be sitting with this in the months to come.
It is also perfectly ok and honorable to be a writer who doesn’t write a book. A book is not the holy grail of the writing life. There are many ways to be a writer. I’d say a very large percentage of folks I work with and who participate in my groups and retreats struggle with claiming the title of “writer.” When I say, a writer is a person who writes, I mean it. Not every writer is a professional writer, a published writer, a money-making writer, a household name. In fact, the vast majority of us are none of the above.
The house is quiet, except for Chalupa’s snoring. I look over at the books on the shelf. I have self-published three books. And yet I still ask: Will I write a book? Clearly, there is a kind of book I have not written. There might be several. Time will tell.
What I want, more than anything, is to feel connected to myself and to others. To find form for what lives in me and yearns for a worldly shape. Stories, for me, and yes, books, are one of those recognizable shapes — a way of literally holding, and offering to others, one’s lived experience — and also of letting it go.
Baby steps might not seem very sexy, but they are the only way to begin, just as practice and commitment and a hefty dose of self-compassion are good ways to keep going once you do.
Don’t wait to believe it. Take some action and let the faith follow.