I’m just shy of halfway on my current novel at 43,470 words. Yesterday, I got an email from my agent saying that she really liked the first six chapters, but she doesn’t quite know how to pitch the book. Her response was encouraging, particularly since I sent those chapters to her almost a month ago. So what I’m trying to ask is…how the hell did I manage to write half a book without anyone confirming that it was publishable? Especially when editors had praised my writing style and talent but rejected my first two novels for not being marketable? Let me answer that for myself: belief. Everything in life requires belief and you’ll never get anywhere without it. Sure, sometimes belief may be unfounded and against all odds, but you’ll never know unless you try. I have no idea if anyone would want to read my novel, yet I’m writing it because I would read it and that’s all you can aim for as a writer. Jeffrey Eugenides, author of Middlesex and The Marriage Plot, says in an interview with the Paris Review:
I tell my students that when you write, you should pretend you’re writing the best letter you ever wrote to the smartest friend you have. That way, you’ll never dumb things down. You won’t have to explain things that don’t need explaining. You’ll assume an intimacy and a natural shorthand, which is good because readers are smart and don’t wish to be condescended to.
In a separate interview, which I can’t track down right now, he says that the moment you start thinking about the market and the critics and how your novel will be received, that’s when creativity dies. In other words, as a writer, you jump headfirst into the deep end and hope that you come up with something good.
I think that life is not too different from this. No matter what field you are in, you can’t plan for everything. You can’t gauge the probability of your success, inputing factors such as your IQ and work ethic and professional connections. The only thing you can measure is your passion for something. Once you find that special something in your life, you just have to believe in yourself. Believe that you can be the one to achieve the seemingly impossible and one day, you’ll make it there. The worst thing you can possibly do is give up before you try. Life is too short to confine yourself to the statistically probable. You might not become the most famous, most successful, or most wealthy person, but you can achieve your own definition of greatness.
I’m not sure that I want to win the Nobel Prize for literature or even a Pulitzer. I admire literary writing tremendously and I very much enjoyed Middlesex as a teenager. I’ve always loved writing that pushes the limits of my thinking and shock me and stay with me for decades. But I believe that you can achieve that sort of writing in a completely different fashion. You don’t need big words and convoluted sentences to make that happen, as many MFA programs would have you believe. That’s something that Junot Diaz has proven — that you can write something beautiful, employing the same language you would use in daily speech. But I lack his brilliance and originality, so I probably won’t win a Pulitzer despite breaking literary tradition. In conclusion, I’m going to take another page out of Jeffrey’s book (har har). He says that just as musicians can still compose in C Major, writers can still write so-called cliché books in which you fall in love with the characters. So here I am, hard at work to provide you, dear readers, with something you might love.
If I can believe in myself, so can you.
There’s almost a thousand of you now, so speak up! What is your dream?