Many years ago, before I’d even opened a blank document on my laptop, I imagined the sort of novel I might write someday. It would be an Important Book, one that would unveil a deeper aspect of the human experience.
Maybe, if I were lucky, the book would be reviewed by The New York Times and shortlisted for a few awards. My former classmates would read the book and tell me it brought them to tears, and my name would be mentioned in the same breath as Anne Tyler and Richard Russo. Perhaps Jeffrey Eugenides would invite me around for tea.
I will be the first to admit these ambitions were both unrealistic and steeped in snobbery. But at the time — and even now — those were the types of books and authors praised by the literary establishment. If I wanted my fellow Yale grads to take me seriously as a writer, clearly that was the kind of book I needed to write.
And then I sat down in front of my laptop, and what came out was — to steal from my book cover — “Bridget Jones with a killer cinnamon bun recipe.” Ahem.
Here’s the thing: I loved Bridget Jones. No, make that present tense: I love Bridget Jones. I love books by Sophie Kinsella and Jennifer Weiner and lots of other authors who write so-called chick lit. So why is it any surprise that when I sat down, that’s what came out? And why, initially at least, did I try to resist it?
I’ll tell you why: because I worried my friends and family — and the public more generally — wouldn’t respect me as a writer if I wrote those kinds of books.
Ridiculous? Of course. Unfair? Entirely. But in a world where “chick lit” had become a pejorative term, and as a woman who had spent her life chasing intellectual pursuits, I had trouble reconciling the book I thought I should write with the book I was meant to write.
When everything changed
Then one day, as I poked around Twitter for a few minutes, I came across a tweet from Jennifer Weiner. I can’t remember the exact wording of her tweet or what, specifically, she was referring to, but the gist was this: the book chooses the writer, not the other way around. (Click to tweet this idea!)
At that moment, everything came into focus for me. I didn’t need to label the kind of book I was writing. Plenty of other people would do that for me. What I needed to do was write, to help the story that was bottle up inside of me escape. It didn’t matter if that story was chick lit or a gory thriller. What mattered was that I told my story, my way.
When it comes to writing fiction, there is so much talk about craft and form that it’s easy to start thinking you’re somehow cheating if the writing comes easily. Believe me, even when the writing comes easily, crafting a novel is never easy. There will be hours and hours (and hours) of revisions. There will be scenes that don’t work and dialogue that falls flat. There will be times when you wonder if your story is, in fact, the worst novel ever written.
Maybe it is, and maybe it isn’t. But I guarantee it isn’t nearly as bad as it would be if you tried to write something other than the book living inside you.
So shut out all of the voices, real and imagined, telling you to write a certain type of book or not to write another. Write the book deep within you, and instead of trying to be the next Richard Russo or Anne Tyler or Jeffrey Eugenides, do something even better: Try to be the first you.