It was all you had to give when you were asked to give it all.
"I poured my brain and heart into this, and maybe I'll hate it in two years, because that's the nature of being my age, but for now, it's the most powerful thing I can give."
The ground didn’t shake.
The trees didn’t bend. No earthly element was pushed out of its place when the book was done. The whole week before, I’d been anticipating what would happen when I placed that last period down. Would I crawl up into a ball on the floor and cry? I mean, that wouldn’t be so different from the events of every other day after my writing hours were through. Would I finally feel a sense of peace? I’d been taking Doubt and Insecurity and Fear into the wrestling ring of my mind for the last few months and I wanted to be able to dole out a final punch of Victory that would wipe them all out.
I had no real idea what would happen, outside of me or inside of me, when I finished my first book. The one I’ve been working on for seven months now. I just knew I had to keep typing, and keep going, and keep trying until I reached the point where I could whisper or scream, “It’s done. It’s over. It’s through.”
It was a Friday night when the first draft of the book was finally, finally finished. I remember it was dark outside already, since it was January. Earlier in the day I’d taken a walk. In the rain. Like a zombie, letting the little water pellets fall all over my skin and not really caring that maybe the neighbors thought I was crazy for walking in the rain in the thick of January. I remember praying to God, deeper prayers than usual— “Please, get this out of me. Please. Let me be finished.”
That’s what no one ever talks about (or rarely talks about) when it comes to writing a book— it’s painful. So painful. In a way that I don’t actually know how to type but there are words waiting somewhere for me. And this is no disrespect to people who’ve felt other forms of pain, I am not trying to dishonor you. It is only to say that getting a book out of you-- resolving a story that is still happening all around you-- isn’t a fluffy feeling. It hurts like hell. And some days you don't leave the room you’re writing inside of for ten hours. And other days you can’t do much more than cry. And then some days you are slamming the keys screaming, Yes, Yes, Yes! because you’ve reached a point of breakthrough— and everyone loves a breakthrough.
And every so often I would scroll my mouse to click on the notifications for new emails. A mental break from my own words. And I would click the emails with ugly subject lines. And I would read the stories of people I'd never met who told me about loves lost and passions coming back. They left their heartbreak in my inbox like mints on pillows in the hotel room. I couldn't respond to every single one so I'd just take a sticky note and I'd scribble down their name. I'd post it on my wall. I'd say a quick prayer. And I'd keep going. I'd keep writing with them in the forefront of my mind.
And I can only describe it all-- all the hours in the writing room-- as this: writing a book is like giving birth. There is the carrying of something inside of you. That something is a precious something. There are the slow and throbbing contractions. There is the heavy labor that leaves you ugly crying on the floor. There is the release— the solid release and assurance that the pushing is over. It is out of you. It is done. You can see it in your hands. You’ve somehow said all you needed to say. And it doesn’t matter if it is pretty, or right, or relevant, or following all the other writer rules— it is true. And it is yours. It is your truth sitting on the outside of you. And it is exactly all you had to give in the moment when you were asked to give it all you had.
Most days in the book writing, I beat myself up the hardest not for the words but for the numbers.
The age that I was. I beat myself up for being young. For thinking I had anything worth saying at the age of 25. I mean, I’m 25. I’m 25. I’m 25. Can I write that again? I’m 25. And I understood why people would people look at me strange and say I was young to write a memoir. I agreed. And it probably could have been easier to just write a letter and pass it out instead of opening my mouth in agreement every time someone worried alongside me about my age:
I am 25. Yes. 1988 was a great year. I loved being born into it. But I am starting to realize age— old or young— is an excuse. And I won’t be the kind of person who lets a number stand in the way of me knowing that life is fleeting and a lot of times we don’t get promised the things we thought we would be promised. And our loves go away. And our best friends die. And our skin shrivels. And we get sick. And it’s all scary and beautiful and reason enough to start something now. Right now. This second. Don’t even finish the letter, maybe. Go if you have to go. Life is waiting for you.
Really, there is so much to prove my undeniable youth to the world— I still haven’t mastered the proper use of sunblock or a conventional oven. I still miss my friends from college. I still do some sort of wicked, daily dance with Sallie Mae. A boy in a random coffee shop is still capable of being the most important thing in my orbit.
I can’t speak for marriage. I can’t speak for divorce. I can’t speak for having enough money to take myself around the world. I can’t speak for a courage I never had to hike a trail on the other side of a country or sell all my belongings and start a new life. I can only speak for the parts of me that ever wanted do something wonderful. I can only speak for how it sometimes feels like you are drowning in a world where everyone is superglued to their devices and their networks. I can only speak for how it feels to be so uneasy with sitting alone with yourself but how I wanted to gain enough confidence to finally be able to say, “I know exactly what sits at the root of me. And I’m not afraid of it any longer.”
I can only write this book from the perspective of a girl who wanted certain things when this story started— to find God, to fall in love, and to do something that mattered in the world. I can speak for that.
Like I wrote earlier, the ground didn’t shake when I finished the book.
And nothing really felt different around me. I took a hot shower, ran my fingers through my hair as if the scrubbing motions could wash everything off of me now that it was over. I was finished. I dried my hair and put clothes on and I wore my favorite beanie and I went out to find a burger the size of my head and a glass of wine. It wasn’t what I thought it would be and yet it was all I really wanted.
I guess I thought I would feel bigness all around me in a moment like that one— one where a first book gets finished and turned into an editor. A lot of times though— excluding weddings, or busy hospital rooms, or parties where we wear a new age— there’s no bigness to the moment that changes your life. There’s just you, in a quiet room, letting something go. There’s just you, in a bustle of a busy restaurant, finally feeling free.
I didn’t even talk about the book that night. I kept it's finality in my lips like a secret. I was tired of talking. For five minutes, I just wanted to be in love with a truth I’d been waiting to hold for so long: I did something I never thought I could do and it wasn’t the craziest thing in the world to believe in myself. I was actually right to believe in myself.
That’s who will you lead you in the book.
If you pick it up from a bookstore and hold it in your hands at the start of March, that’s who will wave at you from the very first page and ask you politely to take her hand— a girl who wanted to know that one day she might wake up and actually believe in herself to be something more than a mess in the world. She'll write about letting go, and holding tighter, and waiting for things. She will write about grief and triumph and the things that have always been bigger than her but she wanted to understand them so badly anyway.
She'll be 22. She'll be unreliable and yet so committed to the journey. She'll be insecure and yet so eager to find confidence the way you find old socks beneath the bed.
She'll be a girl who rarely knows what coffee to order, nevermind who to fall in love with. A girl who once thought being “chosen” by a guy was the end goal, the reason to show up and fight. A girl who, when she was 22-years-old, looked down and realized: the world is so incredibly big and my hands are so incredibly small. The two don’t seem to match up. But she was a girl who knew that the world never stopped needing people who were hungry for more, and she needed to not miss her casting call for that.
A girl who, as cheesy as it seems, wished she could figure out why people sometimes call this whole life a “love letter.” Yes, she wanted those answers. And so she went out into the streets of New York City, and the subways, and the libraries, and the churches, and the coffee shops to answer that one question for herself— how do people ever get to the point of falling in love with their own life?