By Amy Lane
Do you remember it?
Do you remember when you made that realization?
When you walked into your first book store, first grocery store, first library, looked at all the books and thought, “I want to read them all?”
Do you remember how each book felt like a treasure, a possibility, like if you could linger over each and every one of them, you could put together the puzzle of the world?
Did you learn history not from the dusty, biased tomes of your high school, but from The Witch of Blackbird Pond and Pride and Prejudice and A Tale of Two Cities or Les Miserable or The Octopus. Better yet, did you fall into the flower-strewn abyss of historical romances, the kind you could mail order and have delivered, four every other month, and if you accept the offer right now you could even get a free wine glass with every delivery! (I still have those wine glasses by the way—some of the classiest things in my house.)
Did you learn your code of conduct from the heroes and heroines in the storybooks? Did you look to them for guidance? Did you learn to forgive like the princesses and learn to forge on like the princes? Were your principles of honor and fair play established by the underprivileged orphans who wished to establish a world more just than the one they survived in the course of the tale?
Did your friends lose you in the mall and find you in a bookstore every time. Did you read the bio’s of the authors and try to compare their life stories to your own, try to decide if, yes, you too could be brilliant enough, imagine enough, lucky enough, to have your words preserved forever in magic strips of pulped wood? Did you wander off when washing the dishes, daydreaming, plotting, creating a world in which you were the hero, and then, as you got older, in which your hero or heroine less and less resembled yourself, and more and more resembled some other person, someone with a different life, someone with a different experience, much like your children would grow to be completely different people than yourself?
Did you sit down to write those characters with no other drive than to see what they would do?
When you were published, did you update your entire family over your publishing process? Rejoice in every edit? Tell your family that you were busy with important things because you were publishing a book? Did you show completele strangers your artwork?
When they arrived in a modest brown packet at your door, did you fondle your paperbacks? Take pictures that you sent to all your friends? Order extra, so you could see your book in a library?
When it was released in e-form, did you spend hours looking your book up on amazon.com, not to see the reviews or the rankings, but just to see that yes! You too had a book! You too could stand with your heroes, be sold in a bookstore, be counted as the millions of others with an ISBN?
Did you find out about GoodReads and look, just look, see? Somebody read my book! Somebody ranked my book! Oh, four stars? Not five? Oh wait, three? Oh no… oh, no no no no no no no no no no…one? One star?
Oh. Oh hell. Well, I must not be a writer then, because, see? One star. One star—my book isn’t really a book if it wasn’t loved. If it wasn’t cherished. If the person reading it didn’t connect immediately with the wonder that I found in the pages. My ideas, they must be no good. My world, it must be defunct. They didn’t like my heroes, they didn’t like my words, they didn’t like me!
And there’s more… there’s some fives, but I can’t trust them, and some fours, and I can’t trust them, and some threes… that’s all my story is, right? A three. So. I’m a three. I’m not in that garden of wonder. I’m not a part of those hallowed names I studied. I’m a three. That’s… well. I’m a pretender. My books don’t matter, because, you know, three.
You forget—oh, how quickly you forget—that you didn’t grow up rating books like that, did you? No book was a one or a four or a three. All books were to be read, and some were to be reread and some were to be forgotten. Some books were daisies and some books were roses and some books were peonies, but you loved them, maybe the roses more, but you didn’t hate the daisies, and who could hate a peony? Even the nettles stung, oh yes they did, but you learned. You never forgot a book that was a nettle, did you? But you didn’t think that a book was a two or a five or a backhanded three and a half, did you? No.
But still, it hurts when the yearning starts. You think:
I have another character, another world, another hero or heroine and another adventure. I have these things burning in my brain! They need to be written, I need to start the process, I need to sit and make words out of them and render the words into my world! It’s necessary.
I need other people to read it.
Are my words good? Are they good? Are they good? Am I a five? A four? A three? Oh no. Am I a one? People won’t see me if I’m a one. (But how many ones did you read? Did you read the threes? Did you think other people’s ones were your fives? Or did you just see daisies and roses and peonies?) Please tell my book is pretty! My words are fine! I deserve to sit there in that garden with the others!
Oh, please! Can I not grow in that garden of books I fell in love with? Can I not be a flower in the garden? Don’t tell me my book is a weed!
Sh… peace. Peace my fellow writers. Go into that bookstore, into that grocery store, into that library, and look around. Is it the same garden you fell in love with? No. Some books have flowered for years, and some have come and gone. Some books have gone to seed, and other books, modern versions, have taken their places. Some books were forbidden, fruit too sweet, and now they grow in abundance. Some authors are revered who were once rejected, and some are forgotten who once wore laurels and supped at the table of giants.
The garden changes, every year. The prettiest book is not always the prettiest book, and sometimes, just like in high school, the prettiest book to you is the smallest, most forgotten book in the garden.
You have done your best. You have planted your seeds and built, cell by cell, the most beautiful flower you could. You have showcased it in the best flowerbed, and if it was not the loudest, or the brightest, or the most fragrant, it was still yours.
Your book was part of the garden. It has been appreciated, plucked, and has sat at a table, in a reader’s hands, for a brief time in full bloom.
You are a part of the garden. No one or two or three can make your book less a part of the garden. You built a world. You created people.
Walk into that garden with a smile of wonder. Look at all the ideas! Look at all the possibilities! You are a part of that! But don’t let your part of that become all of the garden.
Remember when you walked into a bookstore, or a grocery store, or a library, and the world opened at your feet?
Do that again. Don’t look for your flower and be sad if you don’t see it. Look at all the flowers, and remember those days when they were all yours for the taking. Yes, time and responsibility and deadlines have narrowed your flowerbed quite a bit—but the possibilities are still there. You are not limited by how others see your book.
Your book is an exquisite bloom in a garden riot with them. It’s a rose or a daisy or a peony—or even a nettle. And yes—oh yes.
It belongs in that garden.