Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The crumbs and the cake: thoughts on (lack of) book writing

 "I was starting to wonder if I was ready
to be a writer,
not someone who won prizes, 
got published
and was given the time and space to work,
but someone who wrote as a course of life.
Maybe writing wouldn't have any rewards.
Maybe the salvation I would gain through work
would only be emotional and intellectual.
Wouldn't that be enough,
to be a waitress who found an hour
or two hidden in every day to write?"

~ Ann Patchett, Truth and Beauty

photo credit
I’ve often wondered why I’m not working on writing a book. For the past five years or so, I’ve wondered. Other writers I talk to or read tell me ideas are everywhere, that lack of ideas is not the issue. It has felt that sometimes for me. But no, I think it lies deeper. I have ideas, but I see them as crumbs, not as the cake themselves, and I get stuck on that.

I don’t need crumbs. I need the whole dang cake.

I’m having a self revelation of sorts, and I wouldn’t exactly classify it as profound. You see, I don’t like unfinished things, at least in relation to myself. They make me anxious. And that’s a whole problem in itself, isn’t it? Because I am the textbook definition of “Unfinished” if there ever was one. But particularly with regards to conversations, I have a low threshold for unresolved tension. I want to wrap things up in one night, one fight, one conversation, one blog post. I don’t want to spend months or years trying to finish, living with the “let’s pick this up again tomorrow” mantra. I don’t want to pick this thing up tomorrow, I protest. If I’m going to get any sleep, have any peace in my gut, we’ve got to wrap this up tonight.

And I think that, more than anything, may be why I’m not writing a book. Yet.

I’ve grown so accustomed to this comfort, this immediate gratification, of sitting down to write and publishing the post the same day. And then, bam!, it’s on to the next post. The next idea. The thought of having to slog through day after day, week after week, month after month, and maybe year after year of finishing the conversation I’m having in the form of a book? It’s downright overwhelming, like telling someone who only ever hikes up their driveway to go climb Mt. Rainier. I know it’s not for the faint of heart and I question if my heart is stout enough to endure.

Am I brave enough to pick up the crumbs, bit by bit, until one day they resemble a cake?

In all fairness, though I question my strength and tenacity, I have to concede that somehow, I’ve managed to see beauty and meaning in the unfinished conversation that I’ve been living these past five years. I found myself suddenly employed as a barista at Starbucks, and then... never left. I’m still there, Master’s degree and all, and it still gets under my skin some days, how I don’t have the “next step” figured out yet. But mostly, I’m happy to be somewhere that, at the very least, affords me the schedule and relative lack of stress (I leave work at work) to pursue writing. To live a life that lines up a little more closely with my priorities (“career as my identity” not being one of them). My blog is not well read, even after more than four years, and still I keep writing, because I just can’t shut up.

Somewhere deep inside, even when I doubt it, even when I’m anxious and insecure, I must believe that I was born to write. And the success of it lies not in the book I’m working on (or not), on the number of readers of my blog (or not), or the number of places that publish my writing (or not), but in my unwillingness to walk away even though I have little to show for it. 

Hear me now, shouting from my proverbial driveway: 


(That actually felt kind of therapeutic.)


Have you noticed how everything in life that’s hard and worthwhile and complex seems to turn on a “But”? But I can’t stop here and pitch my tent. But if I want to challenge myself to continue becoming, to write the journey of unfinished and maybe never see the wholeness, I’ve got to be willing to live in the discomfort. I’ve got to set out beyond my driveway and fix my sights on the path up the mountain. One step, and then another. One day, and then another. Follow the trail of crumbs, hopefully to the cake. Risk ending up with nothing more than a bowlful of crumbs.

But - I’d be different for it. I’d have to be.

* * * * *

Joining Heather for Just Write


  1. I loved that book by Ann Patchett - I read it before I was writing, it would probably be good to read again now. I think she also has a more recently memoir that deals some with writing.
    I hear ya on the "instant gratification" and the pleasure of writing about one thing and then walking away. It helps that I categorize my posts, over time I can see the themes I write about most often and it's starting to become clearer what I would write about if I were to, let's say, write something longer :).

    1. I'm reading Ann P's newest, and the first I've read of hers, and I'm gleaning so much from her words. I need to read Truth and Beauty next. But anyways, I think your categorizing posts is brilliant. I need to get myself a little organization ;)

  2. I think what you feel are crumbs to you are to us (those of us who often find ourselves in your words) slices of moist cake for a hungering soul, frosted in "me too." I understand your feelings and I applaud your saying you will, " Follow the trail of crumbs, hopefully to the cake. Risk ending up with nothing more than a bowlful of crumbs." , but I think you sell yourself much too short. What you might see as a crumb could be a feast to someone else. I have said it before and I will say it again, A person's blog in reality is their book without bindings. You have been writing a book all along my friend and you are the publisher. Read it back from the beginning to yourself. Do you not see a running story line?

    1. Dang, Karmen. I think you are in my life, among several beautiful reasons, to speak truth to me in a way that resonates with me. I am humbled and grateful for you and by your belief in me. I will be pondering what you've said here. Love you.

  3. I echo what Karman said about your writing and your book without bindings. And oh boy - did you nail exactly how I feel about (not) writing a book. I feel overwhelmed every time u think about "a book" but writing blog posts and Sunday school lessons and other talks are a breeze. Thanks for writing this and sharing it. And enjoy your time at Starbucks. I wish I had a job sometimes, a way to earn some money. For sure.

    1. I'm glad to know someone else feels me on this, ya know? You're right, too. I'm trying to appreciate this season at Starbucks for what it is. But what about you? What occupies your days, friend?

    2. I am a homeschooling mom, trying to get a 17 year old son ready for college. Our daughter is a junior in college. My husband works for one of the big banks. Before I had kids, I was a junior high and high school Spanish teacher and coach and college counselor. But that was more than twenty years ago. Since having kids, I've been at home with them. I also like to travel and write and teach at church and exercise.

    3. Gail, thank you... I was hoping you would respond to this! It's good to know a little more about you, even if just a few sentences. Sounds like you've had a lot of different kinds of adventures and jobs - paid and unpaid. I hope your kids appreciate the gift you are :-) (Sometimes, it takes awhile for kids to realize this).

  4. Always nailing what is is to be a writer, you are. That constant see-sawing back and forth between confidence and disintegration. I think it's just as necessary to write about the PROCESS of writing as it is to write, and you do it so well. It encourages, it supports, it grounds. Too often we look at finished pieces (art, poetry, music, etc) and we can't see the clear line from befuddlement to finished product, so we assume everything just pops out perfectly on the first try for artists... and that if we aren't achieving that same success rate, we must be doing it "wrong". The beauty, the glory, is in that meandering PATH to that finished piece. Anyone who can both produce a finished piece AND describe that messy path is a true gift to writers everywhere. :)