Last Tuesday evening, various family members gathered around our kitchen table as I opened a package with the ceremony ordinarily reserved for birthdays. The package from Christian Focus Publications contained a book that was mine in a way no other book has ever been. It was The Book. The one I had written.
I began writing The Book on January 5, 2018. After writing and revising for two years, I set aside to revisit in a couple month’s time. Over that time I had collected a few encouraging preliminary endorsements and four solid rejections from publishers. The rejections had been as expected as the endorsements surprising.
My plan was to continue to seek a publisher through April and after that to consider other options. But no matter where it went from there, on that day in December, I was okay with the state of it. To have written it was sufficient satisfaction. I needed no more affirmation. And that sense of contentment was surprising to me.
Recently I’ve pondered the seemingly contradictory notions of contentment and ambition. I did desire that the book be published. I felt that it could benefit others. I wanted it to be out there in the world and I wanted it to be successful. I had ambitions for the book, a desire for readers. No comedian wants to tell jokes to an empty room. Rare is the musician who does not want others to hear her music. As one who has written, I of course wanted it to be read (which you can do by pre-ordering here). And yet I was content that something now existed that had not existed before. I was happy with it in itself. My contentment was not dependent on a publisher’s validation or a reader saying, “Wow!”
Anne Lamott in her wonderful book on writing, Bird by Bird, speaks about how students in her writing workshops tend to have too many questions about publishing and not enough about writing. Certainly knowledge of how publishing works is important, but far more important is contentment with writing itself. She makes this point over and over again:
Publication is not going to change your life or solve your problems. Publication will not make you more confident or more beautiful, and it will probably not make you any richer.Ann Lamott, Bird by Bird, 185
She recalls an incident after she had published her first book. She had been invited to speak at a charity event, and somehow her name was repeatedly omitted from the publicity announcements. She was miffed, and frustrated, and hurt. But only for a time.
I remembered that if I wasn’t enough before being asked to participate in this prestigious event, then participating wasn’t going to make me enough. Being enough was going to have to be an inside job.Ann Lamott, Bird by Bird, 220
Contentment is an inside job. So for me, having finished the book was gratifying in a way that was unusual for me. It was done and there did not have to be any more for me to be okay.
But then there was more.
In January, Christian Focus Publications (bless their hearts!) agreed to take the work to publication. And after months of revising, editing, discussing, marketing, and waiting, on Tuesday I, with those closest to me, laid eyes on The Book itself. To see it as a completed object was surreal and gratifying. All I could do was stare.
Unlike Bird by Bird my book does not and will never have “National Bestseller” stamped across the top. It does not and will never have “Winner of the Pulitzer Prize” or “Now a Major Motion Picture” embossed anywhere on the cover. When it is released to the wild on November 6, it will go where God carries it. Some readers will like it; some will hate it.
But I keep coming back to this: If I was not enough before being published, being published is not going to make me enough.
Being enough is an inside job. It always will be. For me. For you.