For any book, there is the story depicted between the covers—the “official” story that people will read. Hopefully, this version is somewhat tidy. It has been edited and polished and made as presentable as possible.
But then there is the story of how that story came to be. This one is a big sloppy mess, filled with tears and self-doubt.
Because this same duality applies to any creative endeavor, I wanted to share a little here about the story behind my book, A None’s Story. My hope is that it encourages you to continue on the path of something important that you may be trying to accomplish at this very moment.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve considered myself a writer. This makes no sense because I didn’t necessarily enjoy the act of writing for its own sake and I almost never wrote anything that wasn’t an assignment. I longed to be the kind of person who crafted short stories for fun or religiously kept a journal, but I wasn’t that sort of person. Sometimes I’d start one or the other thinking I could make myself that person, but the effort would peter out after a few lines. I couldn’t figure out what I wanted to say—much less how I might say it.
I’d read interviews with writers I admire and they almost always said their brains were bursting with words they had to put on paper ever since they could hold a pencil. I thought if I wasn’t like that then I must not be a real writer. A real writer has a story or an idea or a message that needs to get out of them bad enough that they will do the hard work of committing it to paper.
I wrote for a grade and, later, a paycheck. I would arrange words around other people’s ideas and actions. It was writing, sure, but it was writing as more of a technical act, from which I could keep a safe distance.
Yet, a faint voice kept telling me I was a writer—and it meant the kind whose writing originates from her own heart and mind regardless of whether she has anyone to whom she must hand it upon its completion. At first the gap between what it was telling me and my reality was small enough that I could easily ignore it. But the more years that went by, the vaster that chasm felt. The misalignment went from a nagging discomfort to a much deeper ache, which I tried to soothe with food, television, inebriating substances—anything, everything, but my own writing.
At last I grew so miserable that I decided to talk back to the voice. I said: If I’m supposed to write, tell me what I should write about.
I didn’t think it would have an answer, and then I would have won. But it did. It replied: Religion.
That’s when I understood this voice was a fool.
Religion? Of all the topics in the world, religion was the least I was likely to pursue. I knew nothing about it. I had grown up with no religion. The depth of my ignorance on that particular subject was bottomless. Wasn’t the advice about writing to “write what you know”? Religion was the stupidest answer it could have given me.
You don’t write what you don’t know, dummy.
At first I felt better because I had a new excuse to ignore the voice. Then I felt sad because the voice hadn’t given me a better answer. Then I got depressed because I still had nothing to write about.
Finally, it got bad enough that I once again engaged the voice.
I told it: But I don’t know anything about religion.
I was in bed, wallowing in despair, when a reply came. It said: Then learn, and write about that.
I sat up.
Now this was a new twist. I had been extremely curious about religion for as long as I could remember. Was it possible that somehow my lack of expertise on the subject could work in my favor? Maybe my ignorance didn’t make my voice matter less; perhaps, in a strange way, it made it matter more.
Still, the logistics of such an undertaking were overwhelming and I put it off until the pain of not doing it was greater than the pain of taking one tiny little baby step at a time toward the goal. Even then, the two sides—the one saying I could do this and the other telling me I was an idiot for even trying—duked it out daily.
I was lucky in that the voice saying I could do it, though much quieter, was more persistent. It didn’t win every single day. In fact, it lost more times than I care to recall. Then, for a time, I would feel defeated and ridiculous, eyes swollen from crying, ready to give up.
For five years, the battle raged.
That’s how this book got written.