I gave my university students a writing prompt recently: write about something you don’t want to do.
They mostly wrote about their dread for school, homework, work, being responsible—crossing the toll booths along the highway to adulthood.
I wrote alongside them. Here’s mine: I dread finding an agent, revising my writing, selling a book.
So, don’t do it then (one might say, “one” sometimes being me).
All worthwhile things are painful and laborious. I used to want to publish a book for my own sense of accomplishment, but I straight up don’t care about that anymore. I’m happy to write for whatever limited audience I garner, to teach Millennials at the local university about writing and rhetoric, to raise my sons and live my life, experiencing all the things God gives me.
Why, then, do I then torment myself with the frightening, nebulous book idea? It’s because I have a sense that God wants me to do it.
I would be skeptical if someone told me they were writing a book because God wanted them to write it. And yet, here I am honestly telling you that once, in the celestial room of the temple, God told me the title of the book. I’ve asked myself in hindsight if he really was literally giving me a book title to clarify his desires for me, or if the prompting was figurative: use whatever platform you can to talk about suffering and faith.
I still don’t know the answer to this.
The book (or the thing with the potential to become an actual book) is mostly written, having been in the works nearly six years. It needs shaping and revising. It needs structure. It needs someone to care about publishing it.
As I wrote alongside my writing class, I asked myself what it is about this process that is so off-putting to me. This is what I came up with:
“I do not want to find an agent because I am afraid. I fear I will be turned down. I don’t know the process. It’s unfamiliar and I won’t be ‘right.’ I’ll be ‘too church-y,’ ‘too Mormon,’ ‘too white.’ I don’t want to hear that I am not what publishers want to print. I don’t want to hear that I’m a one-blog wonder, playing the same song over and over and over and over. Hardship & Jesus. Autism & Jesus. Sadness & Jesus. Poop & grief & loss & Jesus.”
And then, this:
“I want to keep writing, teaching, and living my life while NOT writing a book because I DON’T CARE TO KNOW WHAT OTHER PEOPLE THINK ABOUT ME.”
Writing the personal essay as I do is already fraught with the potential for sharing too much.
The trouble with writing about one’s life is that sometimes it feels too intimate to talk about on the page or the internet, even for me, the one who says she’s over it (meaning the constant sharing of hard things). Sometimes I dream of a backwoods cabin where social media and the interwebs are merely a fable.
Al Fox Carraway recently wrote a post which went viral about this very topic. (See? Even Al Fox Carraway wants to quit the internet. Preach, sister). I’m no Mormon celebrity like she is, but I concur that putting one’s tenderest feelings and beliefs out there is the opposite of easy. Being vulnerable when you are feeling vulnerable feels like inviting the whirlwind into your life.
Where does one draw the line between worthwhile contributing and sharing, and needlessly exposing oneself to all the critics?
I once yearned to publish because I wanted the satisfaction of validation. “See? I did this. I’m worth reading.”
Now, years hence, I’ve grown up. I understand myself and my intentions. I know my limitations and my weakness. I’m my greatest critic. But I can also see with clarity the more refined version of me—the result of the hard things that have hammered the pride out of me.
When I finished graduate school, one of my mentors gave me a paperweight engraved with the question, “What would you do if you knew you could not fail?”
The question used to stress me out with its implication that I should be doing more and fearing less. Now I imagine my heavenly parents posing this question to me, with the implication that when I am close to them, I can’t fail.
I don’t want to write to get the credit. I want to write to convey the message, which isn’t even my message. It’s everyone’s message.
I want to write about Jesus, and how he is the means to surviving one’s life.