Last night I visited a friend I haven’t seen in a long time. She is my Fairy Bookmother, often gifting me with books she is ready to let go of one (or three) tubs at a time. She had another one waiting for me… as well as glass of wine and plate of cheese and crackers. We talked about all kinds of things; parenting, trauma, life, motherhood, kids, and so on. She could be my mother in age and wisdom and I always appreciate her hard-earned and hard-learned life lessons and advice.
At some point, she asked me what my next passion project was. She knows me well enough to know I need a passion project on the horizon for my own mental health and well being.
I tentatively began sharing with her about my dream of writing a book about a Holocaust survivor I had the privilege of meeting last year. I shared the whole backstory, the wild connections, the improbable yet successful pursuit of finding this woman, meeting her family, learning more of her story. I shared about my vision for the book and how I *think* it will pan out. I shared about meeting this woman’s daughters and getting their consent and blessing to pursue this project. I paused and sipped my wine awaiting her response.
She sat back with her glass of wine, looked at me and said two things.
“This is clearly your life’s work. I wish you could have watched yourself tell me what you just told me. Your whole countenance changed. Your eyes changed. Your voice changed. You were literally breathless in the telling. This is for you to do.”
And secondly, after hearing me hem and haw my “yeah maybe’s” and “somedays” and “taking baby steps,” she asked me,
“What are you afraid of?”
I immediately denied fear and said I was merely not sure how exactly to write it, where to start etc. I certainly wasn’t afraid of it. She didn’t let me off the hook, though. She asked me why I hadn’t started. What was stopping me? Why? And again, “What are you afraid of?”
I went home last night, full of cheese and crackers and grapes and a couple of glasses of wine, satisfied physically, relationally and emotionally. And also with a ball of something in the pit of my stomach. Uncertainty? Dread? Fear?
Was I afraid of something? If so, what? And why? And how do I overcome it?
I woke up pondering these things. Today, during my weekly session with my (amazing) therapist, I shared with her my friend's probing question. We didn’t have much time to devote to this, but we both felt the fear was probably something to do with imposter syndrome and fear of failure. Who am I to think I can write this book? Do this story justice? Who am I to think I can write professionally? What if I fail? What if I never finish it? What if it is unreadable, unrelatable? What if I quit? I haven’t even gotten to the question of publishing it. I am firmly stuck in the mire of simply writing the thing.
My therapist told me she had been listing to a variety of podcasts about strong, successful women. One of the themes that seemed to thread through most of these stories, as diversified as they were, was that these women got to a point, after wrestling with convention and tradition and the way you “must do” the thing, where they stopped trying to do things the “right” way and just did the thing their way. They bucked the status quo and did the thing on their terms, according to their dreams and vision. They honored their intuition, followed curiosity where she led and did the thing the most natural way to them at the time. Of course, they hoped for success, and most of them eventually experienced success in the venture. But success was never guaranteed and never the end game. Doing the thing their own damn way was the end game. I walked out of my therapist’s office with a shot of inspiration coursing through my veins.
I have known this particular journey would lead to a book almost from day 1. I know the story I want to weave and share. I know I am the one to write it because there is no one else. This story is birthed from a shared personal experience unique to me and two of my main characters. Curiosity has led me down this extraordinary path. From the beginning, I chose to just follow the crumbs in front of me. That is all I could do.
Liz Gilbert’s book, Big Magic, has been instrumental in helping me honor my curiosity for what it is… something worth pursuing in its own rite. I don’t have to qualify or quantify it. Curiosity if a gift in itself and worthy of pursuing no matter where it leads and for how long and for what reason. In Big Magic, Liz shares about how her book, The Signature of All Things, came to be.
She bought a house with a yard with some new-to-her trees and plants. She decided to research one particular tree one day. She discovered it had a fascinating origin story. She decided to research another one and then another. A couple of years went by and eventually, to her surprise and wonder, she had the bones of a new novel in her hands.
"It was a novel I never saw coming. It had started with nearly nothing. I did not leap into it with my hair on fire. I inched towards it, clue by clue. By the time I looked up from my scavenger hunt and began to write, I was completely consumed with passion... That's big magic, too."
"Curiosity only ever asks one question: Is there anything you're interested in? Anything?"
"In that moment... curiosity will ask you to turn your head a quarter of an inch and look at the thing a wee bit closer. It's a clue. Follow that clue. Trust it. See where curiosity will lead you next and then to the next clue and the next.”
“In that moment... curiosity will ask you to turn your head a quarter of an inch and look at the thing a wee bit closer. It's a clue. Follow that clue. Trust it. See where curiosity will lead you next and then to the next clue and the next.”
My book idea started with a statement I made to myself. “I want to know more about her.” Then want became need. I use the word, “compelled” to explain this part of the journey to people. Compelled to find her and learn everything I could about her journey to hell and back. Curiosity asked me to turn my head and I inched forward. Clue by clue, crumb by crumb, she has led me to a place of passion and interest and fascination. Thanks to the fruits of curiosity, I now have the building blocks of a beautiful, compelling story to craft and share.
My friend left me with one last bit of advice last night. I had shared my hangups about how to start the story, craft the plot, relate the characters. I mentioned this writer who said thus and that writer who said that. I have become a ball of insecurity, not knowing which Successful Author Person to follow. I stopped following the crumbs in front of me and sat on my hands waiting for the right nuggets of inspiration and instruction to physically move me towards action. That would have been a long, painful wait.
“Just write the next paragraph, Chelsea. No more. No less. Surely you have a paragraph in you.”
That I do, my friend. That, I do. And so I begin again in earnest this time. Ready to write it my way. Ready to tell the story that is already inside of me. Unwilling to wait for anyone else's permission or advice. (There will be a time and place for all of that in future editing and revising, but not in the starting.)
Earlier this year, I started reading the book Atomic Habits, by James Clear. I have yet to finish it, but the first couple of chapters were very thought-provoking, especially around the idea of identity influencing our motivation and habits.
“The ultimate form of intrinsic motivation is when a habit becomes part of your identity. It’s one thing to say I’m the type of person who wants this. It’s something very different to say I’m the type of person who is this.”
I have talked about myself as a person who wants to write a book. No, who dreams about writing a book. Perhaps it is time to refer to myself as a writer, instead. Or, in more relevant hashtag terms, #amwriting.