I told myself I was writing important work. But I was a striver reaching for another brass ring
In the years since, many well-meaning people have asked me, “How’s the book?” This once-innocuous question falls upon my ears today like “How’s your chlamydia?” or “What happened to those lewd conduct charges against you?” The short answer is that I did write a book, I couldn’t get it published, and these days I am much more familiar with failure than talk-show green rooms.
In the beginning of 2008, writing a book did not sound like a terrible idea. I was a newspaper reporter with the dumb luck to stumble across an interesting true story for which I can claim zero creative credit. I went to New York and easily landed an agent on the strength of said story. I went to Southeast Asia and squatted in the dust for months gathering interviews and research. Then I came back to New York and set about writing, a thing I believed I loved to do.
I was wrong. I liked having written things. Writing them was the worst. I wrote and wrote, and could not believe there was so much still to write. I read and reread drafts until I was no longer sure they were in English. I cut pages of useless and boring exposition that amounted to days of work. I was at one point concerned that I had not given enough detail to the process of cashew farming. You don’t need to know what the book was about to know that this is a bad sign. No one, ever, since Gutenberg, has closed a book and wished they’d learned more about cashew farming.
And I was scared, so scared, that I would get something wrong, that I would sound clunky or naive, that I would take this fascinating story that happened to cross my path and jack it up with my own incompetence. I agonized over every sentence, and I have yet to hear any great writer advise that the best work comes when you ignore your instincts and focus intently on fear and self-doubt.