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What Most Aspiring Book Writers Really Want is Hubbell's Girl, by Jude Hopkins, 3/24/24



 

I’ve changed my mind about people’s heartfelt desire to write the book within them.

 

They’ll never do it. And I need to quit encouraging them.

 

It’s not that the odds aren’t daunting: For all those who wish to write a book, only 3 percent actually finish it; of those, only 1 percent get traditionally published. They should welcome any advice they can get from published authors.

 

Many of these people in my audience were women, most of them, in fact. Many of them were accomplished at their jobs. Many had families, about whom they were rightly proud.

 

In offering advice, I was acting upon the fact that many of these women had expressed their desire to write a book. I sensed some believed it might be a cinch once they actually decided to do it, once the kids were grown and out of the house, once the husband retired, once their own obligations eased. That writing a book was, as some believed, just a matter of time once they cleared their schedules. Certainly, many were capable of doing it, if only they tried.

 

But they didn’t. As a debut author, I knew how much persistence, resolve and work it took to do so. Success, meaning getting a manuscript accepted for publication, wasn’t the result of simply writing a first draft. The world isn't waiting for any book by a unknown author without a lot of convincing— agents, publishers, readers, for starters. Many of them knew it, too, but knew themselves better than I did, apparently.

 

Nevertheless, as a forever teacher, my inclination was to egg on those friends, mostly through Facebook posts, to sit down at their computers and write the story only they could tell. As an instructor, I had succeeded with so many students, showing them new ways of expressing themselves, motivating them to take risks, to try something besides a compound sentence to frame their thoughts. Toward that same end, I wrote many blogs on this website, encouraging people to get started, to attempt the first few pages, notwithstanding the constraints of time, family, self doubt.

 

But no one appeared to read what I’d written. I saw no results. No one suddenly posted about having seen the light or their subsequent journey toward creative self fulfillment.

 

What had I written about to spark their imaginations? Mostly about books I’d read, the hard, challenging types. About the lack of rigor in today’s education. Tough stuff, like discipline, determination. What I had gone through to get my book accepted and published.

 

I came across as a curmudgeon certainly, unhappy and impatient with the state of education today or with people slow in realizing their potential. Yet few seemed to want to engage with me about the books I’d posted about, or shared my frustration with what kids are or are not learning in school. Or reporting on their progress with creative projects.

 

So I talked to a friend who does share my love of literature and the need for better education for kids. And what it took to write my book (because he’s writing one himself).

 

“Whatever made you think anyone would change if they read your posts?” he asked me.

 

I told him that’s what education is for—to introduce people to literature, how it can make you think about your life, your choices, your path ahead in ways that lesser books can’t do. To be inspired by tales of my journey in getting my book published. To prepare them for the creative experience I’d hope they’d undertake. That was my intention.

 

“They’ll read what they want. You won’t have any influence on them,” he said. “And you’ll come across as somehow better than they are.”

 

True enough, sadly. I had failed to change anyone’s mind. And had come across as a snob in the process. Not my intention. Just the opposite, in fact.

 

One friend posted about her love for the “hard-working and unpretentious people” she represented in her position. I took it to heart. I, on the other hand, was pretentious for having written a book that got published. And I was pretentious to encourage others to try for the same.

 

I mistakenly thought women especially were powered by a desire to get their books written, whatever the genre. Such a desire seemed to be reflected in current trends that indicated marriage and motherhood often kept them from becoming the creatively fulfilled people they were meant to be.

 

“We live in a golden age of autobiographical women’s writing,” the New York Times recently proclaimed in a review of Leslie Jamison book “Splinters” that recounts the tale of her failed marriage.


Lyz Lenz was also burning up the bestseller lists with her book titled “This American Ex-Wife: How I Ended My Marriage and Started My Life” about what the author calls the “commonplace horror” of marriage and the freedom afford by her divorce.

 

Claire Vaye Watkins wrote a book titled “I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness,” a book the Washington Post described as “an audaciously candid story about the crush of conflicted feelings that [having a] baby inspires—particularly for a woman who regards the nursery as a place where ambition, freedom and sex die.”

 

Who could blame me for believing that many women, my would-be writer friends included, at the very least empathized with Jamison who wrote about her conflicted feelings: “It’s true that I didn’t want [my baby] to be away from me, even for a moment. But it’s also true that once she was gone, I pulled out my laptop.” 

 

I was wrong. Unlike the above women and for whatever reasons—family, self-doubt, lack of ambition or talent, inadequate writing facilities—they weren’t going to write the book within them, and if I knew what was good for me, I’d leave them the hell alone. Just posting about it irritated them, deepening their belief I was flaunting my good fortune. After all, I was single, childless. No wonder I had the time to write!

 

Their joy, their legacy, their creative expression would be found, instead, in their work, their families, their hard-earned comforts, their traveling, their children’s accomplishments, their grandchildren’s adorableness. And on their deathbed, they could always say to people, “I could have written a book if I’d only had the time.”

 

“As if!” the pretentious me wants to say in response. Time is but one of the things needed to write a book. And, for the record, you’ll write it even if you don’t have the time. You make room for it, that’s what you do, as I did. After grading a million student papers and preparing lesson plans and taking care of my elderly parents, I was often tired, miserable, uncomfortable, but I kept returning to my manuscript(s) late at night or early in the morning. Writing your story is an insistent passion, something you can’t ignore. “A hard, gem-like flame” burns within you, as the old Oxford don Walter Pater had written.

 

But now it’s time to quit being the teacher, the cheerleader. My job is to listen to my own passion. Any writer knows that’s enough. And let others be whatever they wish to be, deathbed regrets be damned.

 

“You either act upon your desire to write or you don’t,” my logical friend told me. He’s right. I was naïve to think otherwise, whether it’s in recommending a book or getting others to turn all their abstract yesterdays into concrete tomorrows.

 

Remember the movie “The Way We Were”? For years, Katie goaded her husband, Hubbell, into taking actual steps to go to France to finish his second novel. After all, he was such a good writer, she told him.  

 

“You push too hard … every damn minute,” Hubbell tells her. “There’s no time to ever relax and enjoy living.”

 

Toward that end, he divorced Katie, wrote for television (then a comedown from novel writing) and married a submissive blonde.

 

Ultimately, Katie realized that Hubbell didn’t ever want to write a second novel.

 

“No, I didn’t,” he told her. “You wanted me to.”

 

Point taken.

 

 

 

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