The other day, I was talking to a friend about the expectations I have for my book. Which are none. Seriously, none. I am far too naïve to have expectations. This is my first publishing rodeo, folks. I still get a flutter when someone posts an advance review on Goodreads, thinking, “Oh my god, people are actually reading it?” Yes, the mere fact that people besides my relatives are reading the thing is a daily shock and, frankly, enough of a reward.
As the publishing date looms closer, I have started to worry about how the book will be received. I thought I was much better at the not-caring-what-people-think thing, but apparently I have not evolved much past my junior high school years. When you write a novel, they (the experts on such things) tell you not to worry about anything but the story. And I’ve done that with every novel I’ve written. And it was easy because I never got to this point of actually putting the story out into the world for everyone to judge. Now that I’m at this point, I’m feeling suddenly very shy and a little tiny bit terrified. My publicist is currently setting up some local launch events for me and just thinking of them makes my palms sweat.
With the launch date on the horizon (May 24! Ah!), I’ve found myself prematurely preparing for criticism and, because I’m a masochistic lunatic, questioning my overall talent as a writer. I keep reading great books, books that stop me in my tracks and make me think, “My writing is nowhere near this level!” Panic ensues. I’m so glad I recently read Ann Patchett’s This is the Story of a Happy Marriage because her words give me great comfort:
“Forgiveness. The ability to forgive oneself. Stop here for a few breaths and think about this because it is the key to making art, and very possibly the key to finding any semblance of happiness in life. Every time I have set out to translate the book (or story, or hopelessly long essay) that exists in such brilliant detail on the big screen of my limbic system onto a piece of paper (which, let’s face it, was once a towering tree crowned with leaves and a home to birds), I grieve for my own lack of talent and intelligence. Every. Single. Time. Were I smarter, more gifted, I could pin down a closer facsimile of the wonders I see. I believe, more than anything, that this grief of constantly having to face down our own inadequacies is what keeps people from being writers. Forgiveness, therefore, is key. I can’t write the book I want to write, but I can and will write the book I am capable of writing. Again and again throughout the course of my life I will forgive myself.”
Yes, yes, yes. I wrote the best book I could. It’s my debut and I’m sure my future books will benefit from the learnings of this one. It’s a solid story, but I’m under no illusion that everyone will love it. The main character is controversial and flawed and people may hate her (and, thus, the book). [On a side note, I’ve always found this criticism kind of strange. My sister said, “That’s like saying, ‘I liked Silence of the Lambs, except for that creepy Hannibal Lecter.'”] My writing is good, but I’m not a poet by any means. I wish I had the talent to spend a page describing a blade of grass, but I’m just not that descriptive. I care about characters and dialogue and plot. I write how people speak. Someone said to me the other day, “You must be really good at Words with Friends because you know so many big words,” and I said, “I don’t really know that many big words.” [Another side note: I still don’t know what “QI” means, but I play it at least once every game.]
Elizabeth Gilbert writes on this subject in Big Magic, too. She says there are those who hem and haw over whether one person’s art is “more elevated” than another person’s. Gilbert’s response: Who cares? I’m with her. There is room in this world for all kinds of books. My book is what it is. It’s commercial fiction. It’s not a literary masterpiece. It’s a good story. I think it will have wide appeal, but it definitely won’t appeal to everyone. At some point, preferably before May 24, I’m going to have to accept that.