I always considered myself a blue-collar writer. I am a scrappy journalist, a former crime reporter who never took a creative writing class, and I certainly don’t have an MFA under my belt, just a J degree from Syracuse University and a lifelong love of books (thanks to my mom who took my siblings and me to the public library every Saturday growing up, like it or not). During the period when I was trying to land a literary agent, and later, when my book went out on submission to publishers, I often let my own insecurities as a writer become my own worst enemy.
In other words, when I got rejected early on, I had to fight that nagging voice in my head that whispered, “You can’t write worth a damn, Haseldine. Give it up.”
Most writers I know are wrought with insecurities. On one hand, we believe we’ve got a hell of a story to tell, and we’re just the ones to tell it. On the other hand, we wonder if we are just kidding ourselves. I used to picture literary agents and bigwig editors in New York keeling over from laughter after they read my manuscript and saying something like, “Hey Harry, you gotta’ see this story. It’s the worst piece of crap I’ve ever read.”
At one of my old newspapers, we reporters had a rotating assignment, which we collectively hated. It was called “Everybody Has a Story.” It boiled down to when it was your turn, you’d have to randomly pick a name from the phone book (yes, this was the early 2000’s when phone books weren’t almost obsolete). Then you’d have to call the stranger, convince them you weren’t trying to sell them anything, and more importantly, that you weren’t a nut job. If you could get them over that insurmountable hurdle, then you had to beg, borrow, and steal and whatever other tactics you had up your reporting sleeve, to get the person on the other end of the phone to actually agree to the interview.
I find that most people are okay talking about themselves if you give them a nudge. Even though I never loved the “Everybody Has a Story” assignment, I discovered it was true. Everyone has a unique story to tell.
And the same is true with writers. We may not all have MFA’s, we may not all be journalists, and some of us may never have had anything previously published. But you know what? Who cares? You are the exact right person to write your story. Your unique experiences, imagination, style, personal humor, and struggles you survived make you an original.
Last week, I got a box of advanced reader copies of my book, THE LAST TIME SHE SAW HIM, from my editor. I looked on at them with wonder and awe and big old dose of humility, and felt a warm pull inside me that I pushed forward and didn’t let my own insecurities cripple me before I even tried.
If you’re writing a book, or just dreaming of it, don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t. Everybody has a story. And if your own voice starts whispering that you aren’t good enough, do me a favor? Tell it to shut up.
Keep on writing, friends.