Why everything you ever write matters – Amy FitzHenry
By Amy FitzHenry
After I co-wrote my first book, that never got published, I had my standard joke response down pat. If a well-meaning friend mentioned to someone else that I’d written a book in my spare time and so-and-so should hear about it (as an advice meets narrative nonfiction piece about experiences dating noncommittal men, co-written with a good friend, it was widely applicable to the female population of Southern California), I would quip, “Well, it’s not exactly a book, it’s more of a Microsoft Word document.”♥
This usually elicited a laugh and a flash of understanding, as people quickly got that sure, I’d written a book that never made it anywhere which was most likely wildly disappointing, clearly, given my joke, I was cool with it. I found this to be an incredibly useful device given the fact that I found that one of the hardest things about not getting a book published was telling everyone what happened, mostly because of how sad they were for me. Almost as difficult as processing the actual experience was breaking it to everyone else.
That’s why when I had another friend provide a different response than the usual chuckle — this reaction was notable. He didn’t accept it and move on, he asked why. I told him about the incredible literary agent we’d found, who worked with us, gave us fantastic edits and her unfortunate lack of success pitching it to publishers. I gave him the standard response that was passed on through our agent: it’s funny, but they don’t have a platform. For those of you who haven’t tried to sell a nonfiction book, this is an annoying but logical concept that no one is going to buy a nonfiction book from someone they’ve never heard of. Sure, it makes sense, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. Some common questions:
How many Twitter followers do you have? Um none, I don’t do that.
Okay fine, are you at least a reality star?? Don’t you think I would have mentioned that?
Anyway, when I told my friend this (I thought rather comical) story, he gave me one simple piece of advice. Well, then why don’t you write fiction? If you love writing, the issue is platform, and they’re saying they like your style (this may have been some repackaged optimism from our agent, but either way, I’m grateful for it), just write a novel.
Just write a novel. Okay. Well, first off, no. I wanted to write nonfiction, it came naturally to me. It was fun to tell stories about things that had happened to me (and of course, stolen from my friends). Besides, I didn’t have any new ideas! It was completely out of my wheelhouse to write a completely made-up story. Also, what? I can’t just write a novel.
So I paused, I took a breath. I put down the computer for a few months and I recommitted myself to being a full-time lawyer. Then, the bug that had infiltrated my system when pushed to write the dating “book” took over. Without warning, an idea came to me. Without planning, one day, on an airplane buzzing above the clouds, I started to write. It was a familiar story, about a lawyer who lived in Venice, California, but none of it was real. It was… fiction! It seemed that all those hours I had spent carving out tales of dating woes and thinking of clever ways to describe the relationship habits of men in the age of Facebook and Tinder had seeped somewhere into my subconscious and had someone turned me into something I never realized I would become: a novelist.
I know for a fact that I never would have gotten here without my first try, my Microsoft Word document. I never could have written COLD FEET, which is being published by Berkley/Penguin Random House this fall, if I hadn’t first tried to write something else; something that only a handful of people ever read, but which shaped me immeasurably. Thanks to that first attempt, I found my real voice. Now, I find writing fiction just as freeing and releasing as I used to find telling stories about my real life. I did something I never thought I could, and it made me realize that not only is every piece of writing we ever do valuable, good and vital to our journey, but also, any limits that we put on ourselves are completely made up. The old adage, I think I can, is actually wrong. Because truthfully, we can do a lot more than we think we can.
Amy FitzHenry is the North American legal counsel for the global men’s health charity, the Movember Foundation. Her first novel, Cold Feet, came out on September 1, 2015.