I walked into the basement meeting room area of the local public library and like a kid on Christmas morning, my heart leapt with a mixture of joy and anticipation. I stopped for a moment in the doorway of the first room, the biggest, and breathed in the sight with a slight smile playing on my lips. The surface of every table—those lining the perimeter, as well as those huddled in the center—were covered, edge to edge, in cardboard berry flats. The border of each box, once responsible for encasing those plastic containers of raspberries and blueberries en route to a local grocery store, now surrounded what are probably my most favorite things ever: Books.
Yep, it was time for the semiannual Friends of the Library used book sale and as I perused the myriad titles (nicely organized and displayed spines up by a group of wonderful volunteers), I thought about how much has changed, how much I’ve changed, since the last sale I attended about year before.
Back then, I had just finished the first draft of my manuscript, had just received feedback from a reader for the very first time. I had a lot of work left to do. A lot of revamping. A lot of rewriting. I was anxious, unsure, doubtful of my ability, my stamina to see it through to fruition. So as I arrived at that book sale, I headed straight for the fiction section. I picked up best sellers and classic novels and works by timeless authors such as Shakespeare and Melville and Dickens with the hope that simply having the lyrical prose of these successful writers gracing my bookshelves would be enough to ignite my own creativity.
It didn’t work. For the next many months, I toiled. I wrote crappy sentence after crappy sentence while glaring at those still unread masterpieces and laboring under the delusion that writing—good, authentic writing—came from somewhere outside of myself. But then, with the help of coaches and authors and teachers whose wisdom surpasses mine by leaps and bounds, I discovered that the hard work, the real work of writing—even fiction writing—starts first with finding the truth within.
So, for the last many months, that’s what I’ve been doing. And as I shopped the book sale a couple weeks ago, rather than prioritizing those who I consider to be masters in the art of fiction, I searched for those who are experts in matters of the heart, purveyors of spiritual guidance, and fellow writers whose autobiographies mirror so many of my own struggles that I could cry with gratitude for their courage in sharing their vulnerabilities.
When I had run out of time—as a bibliophile, I must limit myself at these types of events or else suffer the consequences of too many purchases—I glanced quickly at the fiction section. My eyes immediately landed on several notable names whose work I greatly admire—Stephen King, Jodi Picoult, Emily Giffin—but instead of feeling hopeful that the tales of these masterful storytellers could somehow offer me some sort of osmotic burst of inspiration, I found myself filled with a different kind of optimism. I had done the work, I had a nearly completed novel manuscript in my possession, and for the first time since calling myself a writer, I considered the very real possibility that maybe, just maybe, my book might one day be nestled among them in a recycled berry flat.