You Don't Need to Have An Interesting Life to Become a BestsellerOct 21, 2019
You see them.
They’re on TV.
They’re speaking at conferences.
You hear them.
They’re talking to you through your headphones or car speakers when you listen to podcasts.
You hear about them.
People are recommending them, on Twitter and in person or on Instagram or at dinner parties. You’re being handed their work whether you want it or not.
Who are they?
The question is: How do you become one yourself?
The answer: It’s not as hard as you might think.
Truth Talk: You Don’t Need to Be That Interesting
I didn’t become a writer because my life is so fascinating that I felt like I needed to write about it.
I became a writer because there simply wasn’t anything else I knew how to do.
I wrote my first short story when I was in eighth grade and it was about my seventh-grade teacher, Mr. Mein, who was very mean (even a 12-year-old can understand the cleverness of a homonym).
I submitted my first short story for publication when I was 12. Or maybe it wasn’t the first. I just know that the first rejection letter I still have is from when I was 12 years old. It’s framed and on the wall in my reading nook. (You can see a copy of it above.)
Dear Anna, it reads…
Thank you for submitting your story, All About My Splinter, from your “My Garden of Adventures, Book 1” series. I really enjoyed it — very good reading. At this point, we have all our written material set for the next few editions of Boing! But, I will keep you in mind for later issues. If we do use your story, I’ll write to you and let you know. Many thanks and keep up the good writing!
It is signed by a man I have often wondered about.
Was he an aspiring writer and if so, did it make him feel like he wasn’t living his life’s purpose when he had to send rejection letters to 12-year-olds?
I never found out.
But I did find out that even as a pre-pubescent, I was following the “write what you know” adage and as a relatively sheltered 12-year-old growing up in Northern California, I didn’t know about much beyond getting splinters.
(Pity whoever had to read later books in the “My Garden of Adventures” series; my money’s on my mom, who had been the one to comfort me years earlier, at the age of seven, when I’d discovered via The Guinness Book of World Records that the youngest author was six so I couldn’t set the record myself.)
Even though setting records had been a personal obsession of mine since I’d seen Bobby and Cindy Brady set the world teeter-totter record on The Brady Bunch, I let that go.
I Didn’t Let Go of the “Write What You Know” Adage
I write about my life.
I only forgot to do that once — in my second novel, Bought, which Publisher’s Weekly aptly called a “misfire.”
I hated the book so much that I begged HarperCollins to let me do a full rewrite even after they’d acquired it for a significant amount of money.
(They told me I didn’t need to rewrite it — that, after all, they’d bought it the way it was — but I did end up rewriting it and still hated it.)
So, I write about my life.
And yet here’s the thing: my life isn’t all that interesting.
I haven’t discovered the cure for herpes, been elected to office or even set the god damn teeter totter record.
I’ve still made that life into eight books and hundreds if not thousands of articles, posts, essays and live stories.
Because it doesn’t really matter what the story is.
It matters how it’s told.
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