It’s been a long time since I’ve felt so in sync with a book, so captivated by every word of a story, that I’ve finished it, closed it, stared up at nothing for a while and just cried.
I didn’t think I would. I thought I might get a little teary, then finish it, put it back on the shelf and move on to something else.
Sometimes it feels good to be wrong.
I won’t tell you the book or why it resonated with me so much. The subject might give away too much of my story, and that’s not what these posts are for. No, I have something more important to say, something more important than the title of a book which made me, who you don’t really even know, feel something deep.
As writers we’re often too focused on how our readers are going to connect with our words. Not the worst thing to ponder, I suppose, but I wish we didn’t think of it so much. We read books and we comment on how much those characters just “get us.” We wish, we hope, we can do the same thing when we write. Because we all know deep down, one of the things that makes a book great is how it leaves the reader once it’s over.
I’ve read books that I haven’t liked. One of my reading quirks is that once I start a book, I have to finish it. So even if I’m 10 pages in and I hate everything about a book, I’ll read through till the end. I’ve read books that were okay, but that didn’t really challenge my thinking or leave me in a state of wonder or worry or awe afterward. That doesn’t mean those books weren’t good. Their plot lines just didn’t match up with my own, real-life ones.
To write a book that means something to someone, we have to come to terms with something important: not everything you write will mean the same thing to every person who reads it. Like a Sunday morning sermon: you might walk out of that church not feeling a thing, passing by people wiping away tears. There’s nothing wrong with you and the sermon wasn’t bad. It just didn’t fit into that small place in your heart that needed a little love right then.
Books are the same. There are probably a lot of people who have read the book I read and didn’t feel a thing. That’s fine. But I did. So flip that around. You’re the writer. You have this idea you’re head-over-heels in love with. You can’t wait to start writing it. But then … then you start thinking about it more. Worrying that you like it, but what if some people don’t? What if only a few people understand where you’re coming from? What if you’re the only one who loves it?
That place in your head, those thoughts of literary insignificance, are where extraordinary stories go to die.
When we write, we have to listen to our hearts. I have this theory that grief is tangible. Your heart feels empty, but really, it’s just full of stuff. Memories and questions and regrets all sloshing around, weighing the whole muscle down. But no matter the emotion, writing is how some of us release all that.
When you write about things you don’t care about, don’t understand, your heart just sits there in your chest. When you gather strength from inside, though, and you stop worrying about what other people will think, when you stop wondering if anyone will understand what you’re trying to say, a story is born. Your story. A story that, if you give them the chance, other people just might find pretty freaking brilliant.
So, fellow writers. Aspiring or already successful. Wherever you sit on the hierarchy of authorship. If you only accomplish one thing throughout your writing career, please. Write something that lifts itself off the page, reaches out and touches someone. Not their hand, not their cheek, but their heart.
Remind your readers, any readers, it’s okay to feel. It’s okay to be moved. It’s okay to be inspired to change something. Remind them they matter. Remind them if no one else ever tries to understand them, books always will.
Image courtesy of Novelty Revisions.
A recent graduate with a B.A. in English and a completed major in nutrition, currently seeking a graduate degree in health communication, Meg is a twenty-something workaholic with a passion for writing, coffee and dietetics. In addition to her status as an aspiring novelist and Grammar Nazi (and the mastermind behind this site), Meg is an editor for College Lifestyles magazine and a guest blogger for Food & Nutrition Magazine’s Stone Soup. She is a seven-time NaNoWriMo winner and has written several creative pieces for Teen Ink magazine. Follow Meg on Twitter.