The years after I found that broad place were my loneliest. It was a strange place for a girl who’s always been about people. I never ate lunch alone in the cafeteria and never could stand to see someone else doing it, either. I was that girl – Mind if I sit next to you? Want to sit with us?
So you can imagine how strange it felt to suddenly be the girl on the other side of that girl. My loneliness wasn’t forced. My dorm was filled with cool girls. They always had something going on, and I was always invited. It was the same with the girls in the Christian group I started going to. There was a Bible study every week and would I like to go to the fall retreat?
I didn’t know, and so most of the time it was a, “No.” The Christian girls were nice, but I didn’t understand them. Literally. They spoke a vocabulary straight from a Bible dictionary, and so when they’d dialect about God’s will for their lives, I was out. The girls from the dorm I understood, but too well. I wanted to make some different choices. I stayed away.
Not knowing who to join kept me to my own little lunch table most of the time. It was a narrow place – a lonely place – where I felt like a stranger, mostly to myself.
There’s a lot of wisdom about writing, but only one cardinal rule: write what you know. Write what you know and the writing will resonate. The reader will close your book, but she’ll keep thinking about it because you spoke to her plainly. Honestly.
The best stories feel like a good conversation. I may have written my book by myself in my little basement writing room, and you may be reading it a year later by yourself on your couch. But a good story transcends this time and space, and what started as mine has now become yours. Ours.
But it has to start as mine, or it will never work. This doesn’t mean all writing is autobiographical. Our characters don’t have to spring from real life; we don’t have to have lived the plot. What it means is that all stories boil down to an essence, and it’s this that the writer knows. It’s this that speaks to you long after you finish the book.
I’m on the eve of publishing my first book. It’s normal for people to ask, “What’s it about?” But the question stumps me every time. Probably because my book is not about much of anything. There’s no hidden treasure or secret past or mystery to solve. I never intended for the book to be a “what.” It’s always been a who. Who did I write my book for? That’s an easier question to answer because I always have her in my sight.
I wrote my book for the girl who is looking but hasn’t found – her people, her answers, her place. The story I wrote is a conversation from one lone lunch table girl to another, and the book is just a mode for us to chat … when she’s ready. I’m still that girl – the girl who wants to approach and draw her out. But I’ve also been that girl, too – the girl who chooses to sit by herself and hash things out for a bit. My younger self would never have understood the choice of loneliness, or how a narrow state can ultimately lead to great spaciousness if we would just let it run through. I wouldn’t choose to relive my lonely years, but I wouldn’t trade them. I’ll let those girls have their time. And when they look up – weeks, months, or years later- I’ll be ready. Maybe with a book. Maybe with an invitation to coffee. Or maybe just to sit down next to her with my chin in my hand, too. Wondering. Waiting. Expecting.
She is what I know. She is who I write for. That girl.