The Book You Should Have Written

I had a minor crisis as I approached college graduation. I was just months from leaving school – possibly forever – when it hit me that I had virtually no marketable skills. My Bachelors in Creative Writing essentially qualified me to be a starving artist, or to pursue more schooling so that I could teach others to be starving artists.

I took an administrative position with a consulting firm that specialized in increasing profits for quasi-public electric utilities. I answered phones and created spreadsheets. I took out my nose ring. I stopped writing.

Since I was a child, I’d dreamed of being a writer when I grew up. And I wrote A LOT. To this day, my father likes to tease me about my teen years, when he’d hear me tapping away at my typewriter at 2 am if he got up to use the bathroom. I was dedicated. I was determined.

For four years after college, I didn’t write a single scene or story. I still read plenty, spent hours walking the creaky floorboards of my favorite used bookstore, Green Apple in San Francisco, lovingly fingering the dusty dust jackets. While I loved going to the bookstore, the come down was often hard: my stomach contents turned to sour jello and my skin ached with a million tiny pinpricks of envy. I had fooled myself for nearly my whole life, thinking I could be a writer. That I was equal to – or perhaps even better than – many of the authors whose books I admired simply for the fact that I could hold them in my hands, flip through their printed pages.

I heart this book.

I heart this book.

And then I read Wally Lamb’s She’s Come Undone. At the risk of being overdramatic, this book changed my life. It’s a great book, yes, but more than that, it inspired in me a moment of profound realization. I was on the bus on my way to another administrative position at another consulting firm, nose buried in my book, when an odd feeling – one part awe and two parts envy – crept its way up from my belly and into my esophagus, lodging in my throat. I flipped to the back of the book and scanned Wally Lamb’s headshot, read his bio. Somehow a forty-something year old man had crafted a compelling coming of age story about a teenage girl growing into adulthood without any adults to guide her through her journey. I thought, I should have written this book. 

But I wasn’t writing anything anymore. And that was the problem.

Of course, Wally Lamb was a teacher for many years before the success of She’s Come Undone allowed him to write full time. Long before he was a published author, he was sneaking ten minutes here, an hour there in which to write. In retrospect, it seems embarrassingly naïve but I finally understood that I didn’t have to choose between a day job or being a writer. That writers write because we are compelled to do so, despite how we pay our rent.

Within a month of that pivotal bus ride, I’d formed a small writers’ group with a few friends. I started writing again. And I haven’t stopped since.

I will end with two questions for anyone reading this post: What are the books that changed your life for the better? What are the books that you should have written?

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4 thoughts on “The Book You Should Have Written

  1. I bought “She’s Come Undone” years ago after reading one of his other books, “The Hour I First Believed,” and fell in love with his captivating writing style. Sadly, I haven’t picked up “She’s Come Undone” yet, but this post REALLY makes me want to grab it and start reading as I’m in a similar situation regarding where I should take my career.

    At the moment, I can’t think of any books that changed my life because I tend to read a lot of crazy fiction. But, I am very into reading advice articles on the internet, and a lot of them have changed my outlook on life and how I approach specific situations.

  2. Lisa Thomson says:

    Reading about other writers’ processes can be very inspirational, as long as you don’t let yourself become intimidated. Take it all in, keep what resonates with you, and dismiss the rest.

  3. […] inspiring me to start writing again after a very long, very dry spell. Read all about it in this blog post from last […]

  4. […] an author I actually really like, an author who I have in fact praised more than once on this very blog. Wally Lamb’s first novel, She’s Come Undone, is everything I aspire to in my own writing: […]

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