I pulled my knees into my chest as I listened intently to what Eric had to say. I looked down and noticed I was wearing hot pink exercise pants, which I’d never have previously worn in a high-stakes meeting, but in post-COVID life, everything happens on Zoom and there, anything goes. Eric, a highly-respected literary agent who represents many of my clients, had agreed to meet with me to talk through what my plan should be for getting my first memoir out there. I wanted to think strategically so, I reasoned, it’d be best to consult an expert.
Eric was animated as he spoke. His opinions were strong on writers like me—still considered “inexperienced” in the big, bad world of Big 5 publishing, which is, quite frankly, bullshit. His eyes were fixed on me as he gesticulated wildly. I couldn’t help but notice the light from the window of his LA high rise glinted off his bald head.
“How old are you again?” he asked.
“I’m 37,” I responded.
“See, that’s the thing. You’re young. You have so much living to do, so much to experience. You don’t want to release your opus too soon.”
I nodded as I tried to hide the fact that I was leaning forward to Google the word “opus.”
o·pus /ˈōpəs/ noun: a created work, usually musical in nature; a common usage of opus is with the term “magnum opus” which refers to one’s greatest work, musical or otherwise.
I kept nodding as what Eric was saying was clarifying in my mind. I’d hoped this meeting would be more forward-thinking and hopeful. In my mind, we’d talk about what my timeline should look like, what my strategy should be, and he’d share my excitement. Instead of speaking to me like the industry insider I am, he was talking to me like I was an idiot. Not only that, but he was telling me to wait. That I didn’t want to put it all out there too soon and then. . . what? Become irrelevant by the age of 40? Didn’t he believe there was potential for me as a writer that went well beyond a single book?
When we signed off, I settled into an odd sense of relief. I’d been feeling this book rattling around in my head for so long, Eric was giving me permission to ignore those nudges of creativity. He was telling me I could finally quiet that need by telling myself it was just too soon. But in a few days, what started as a feeling of relief morphed into something else. Indignation. Anger. Disappointment. And an unmoving, undeniable question:
What the actual fuck?
As writers, we have this unique challenge of trying to produce words “for us.” I mean this especially for those in the memoir space, but I believe it permeates every corner of our industry—every genre, every individual. We want so badly to bring our words to the world but we’re either told time and time again to wait; we’re forced to wait due to time constraints; or we’re convinced that nothing we have to say matters anyway so we relegate ourselves to writing for others whether it’s copy, blog posts, or in my case, full books. The world—this industry—is somehow set up to shut down new authors and to silence new voices. Yet readers are hungry for new stories.
So, what’s broken? And how do we fix it?
The truth is, there is no easy fix, because the fix is a cultural shift that I am actively working to catalyze within the industry. Moreover, for us, my fellow writers, it takes ignoring not only the voices of agents, publishers, and sometimes self-important fellow writers, but the subsequent voices in your own head that say your story isn’t worthy, you’re not relevant, and you have nothing new to say. Guess what? No one has anything new to say. But we each have our own unique ways of saying every single thing and conveying every lesson we’ve learned, every romance we’ve engaged in, every experience we’ve had.
However, that means we need to get writing.
A question I get again and again is “How do I make time to write when I have other obligations like school, work, and actually having a life?”
Sadly, the answer is both simple and complicated: you just have to fucking do it.
Listen, friends. I’m right there with you. I use my talent give a voice to everyone but me. I’ve written countless books and have only had my name on one cover. I know my own book is in there and it’s begging to be set free. I have my words mapped out, I have a title, I’ve envisioned a cover, I can see it so clearly, but it feels like a dream that exists on the other side of a brick wall. I feel hopelessly blocked in a way I’ve never, ever been before and this block has existed for years. I tried writing my book in college, in New York after college, early in my time in Nashville, and now, here I am, wishing it into existence, knowing it doesn’t work that way.
So here is my promise to you—we’re going to do this together.
Every week, let’s commit to writing a single chapter of material for our books. Maybe that one chapter takes a whole week, maybe it takes a day, maybe an hour? But we’ll do it together. I am committing to leaking my first chapter in next month’s blog post. What about you? What ways can you make promises to this community that will get your ass writing? Remember, you submit it, I publish it. That’s my forever promise to you. If no one else in this entire world tells you how much your words matter, I’ll say it to you as much as you need to hear it. Together, we need to agree to stop consulting “experts” and start using our voices. That’s our mission. The best part?
The generation of creatives ushered in by you all will be greeted with open arms.
Written by our founder, Alee Anderson. Click HERE to learn more about her writing journey and career.
Featured image credit Jimi Anderson, @jimiandersonphotography