When you’re going through something, in an attempt to feel less alone while you do, you often look for other people who “get it.” Support groups. Case-specific online channels. Blogs. The list goes on.
Sometimes when you don’t want to reach out to other people, you look for this support in things like TV shows and art and poetry.
We all, sometimes without meaning to, embark on a personal journey to find something that conveys the feelings we can’t always put into words ourselves. Who hasn’t spent an hour scrolling through their music library looking for the perfect song that speaks to how they’re feeling? Who hasn’t plugged keywords into Tumblr hoping to find an inspirational quote totally reflective of their current circumstances?
It’s not quite as easy to do this with books, I’ve personally found. Every book I’ve ever discovered that has captured my situation almost perfectly, I have found by accident. I didn’t know Tell the Wolves I’m Home would help me cope with my grief until a friend gifted it to me and I sobbed through half of it.
What happens when you’re looking for “the book” that defines your moment, or your turning point, or your past — or your future — and you just can’t find it anywhere?
You write it.
Many of us shy away from telling our own stories. Reasons vary, and it’s not always because you’re ashamed to open up: Maybe you’re not ready yet. Maybe, for your own sanity — even your own safety — you can’t. It’s also possible that you just don’t want people to start defining you by something that has happened in your past. Not everyone has to or wants to speak about their past to showcase their personal transformations. But if you do — go you!
Sometimes we forget that stories can be personal, even semi-autobiographical, and still be fictional. Your story doesn’t have to be a personal essay dishing out all the things that happened to you that got you to where you are today. You can tell your story through a character and make them relatable to a wider audience. You can do it any way you want, but sometimes, getting creative is the best way to overcome your uncertainty about opening up.
When I started writing my current work in progress I meant for it to be a distant narrative about an experience I had when I was younger, but at some point along the way it turned into a way for me to draw on that experience to create characters who weren’t necessarily like me, but who understood me and who I felt could relate to other people much more than I, an unknown person who writes, could.
This book is not my story. It is my characters’ story. But it speaks to me and my experiences all the same. I didn’t write it for me — though I won’t say the process hasn’t been therapeutic. I wrote it for anyone who might be looking for a story about people like them who are going through the things they’re going through. I wrote it because I felt there was a need for it in the literary universe, and the idea was there, and that’s no coincidence.
There is a reason I don’t complain about books that disappoint me or say things like, “There should be a book about x.” I mean, I’ll stand for more representation of any kind in books for as long as I need to. But I’m not always as vocal about pushing for more of these books as I could be, because, well. I’m kind of busy writing them.
I don’t know if the project I’m working on right now is going to become anything beyond a big mess of a multi-font, weirdly spaced Google Doc on my computer. I don’t know if anyone else will want it, I don’t know if I’ll ever have the privilege of showing it to you.
But I do know this: I’m almost done writing it (and then I’ll stop talking about it, I swear). And the fact that I’ve somehow managed to sit down and write the thing fills me with a sense of accomplishment unlike any I’ve felt before now. Even if this story stays only with me, it’s fully formed. I wrote it. I did the thing, I wrote the words. I told a story and it changed me for the better
Don’t worry about whether or not the story you’re telling is something other people will want to read. Just write the thing, for goodness’ sake. If it’s a story you are itching to tell and no one else is telling it, then guess what friend? It’s up to you. This story is now in your hands and you are responsible for making sure it gets told.
Is that too much pressure? I’m sorry. Back up. Of course it’s always your choice whether or not you transform an idea into a tangible thing. If you don’t want to write something down you don’t have to.
But if you can’t avoid the pull, if you can’t get this story off your mind, that’s a sign. Your idea is trying to tell you something. In a life where so many people struggle to find the motivation and the space and the strength to write stories down, if you can’t ignore your need to put an idea into words, don’t. Write it down. Just one word, and then another. And hopefully many more.
We spend so much of our energy worrying about whether or not the story we want to tell has already been told. Well, sometimes we’re faced with the opposite problem. No one is telling the story we want to read, and it may be that this particular idea has just been floating around the universe trying to find the best writer to attach itself to, and look at that. You’re it.
There is a time for worrying about whether or not you can write a book that someone will want to pay you for. Sometimes, what matters more than anything, in the moment, is that you don’t miss the opportunity you have been given to tell the story someone else has been looking for all this time.
Tell the story. The rest of it all will fall into place one way or another, once you do.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.