Ashleigh Young on the book apparently you all have inside you.
Do you have a book in you? Of course you do. Everyone does. In utero, the book begins to form at the same time as the nervous system. It pulses and glows. When you are born, your book is born too. As you grow, your book hums away quietly inside you like a tiny microwave, forever reheating your life, going around and around.
I didn't always believe this. I work in publishing as an editor and in publishing we love to scoff at the old saying "everybody has a book in them". You wouldn't say, 'Everybody has a restaurant in them' or a fashion line, or a series of prizewinning greyhounds,' we cry.
So why is it different with books? Writing takes hard work and talent, just like any other craft. Writing is HARD. Many of us in publishing are also writers so by this point we are shouting and tears are rolling down our faces as we think about how hard writing is. It is just so hard. Not just anyone can do it, only the chosen few.
Anyone who cheerfully declares that everybody has a book in them is chastised. "Like a blind man in a room of ill-positioned rakes, any group indulging in such wilful myopia is doomed to a series of unpleasant collisions with reality," wrote Tim Clare in The Guardian.
You see? Only a real writer could come up with that rake analogy.
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But my stance has softened. I have started to believe, secretly, that everyone really does have a book in them. If not a novel, then a memoir. For the unlucky, a book of poems. I look around and all I see are people with books in them. The man at the shop who moves so slowly it's like he's controlled by an old pulley system. The guy with the little dog named Jimmy in the pub. Whoever it is who writes those desolate jokes on Giggle TV – what dark carnival ride is forever revolving, passengerless, inside their heads? It's all in their book.
But many people do not ever write their book. Their book remains inside them; they know they have a story and the having of the story is enough. Others write their book and are satisfied; still others write their book and then want to publish it and this desire complicates things, because it opens them up to both hope and judgment - and this opens them up to disappointment (the rakes, again).
Maybe the book is published, only to disappear into the widening gyre of the publishing cycle, and now the satisfaction of publishing it is consumed by the sadness of having it go widely unread.
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Having a book inside you is neither good nor bad. It's neutral. You don't have to do anything about it. It's like a vestigial organ: it should be dealt with only if it's causing you problems. Christopher Hitchens famously said, "Everyone has a book in them, which is exactly where it should, in most cases, remain."
But what if you have to get it out? One option is to re-route the book into another form. There are forms in which it might be better served than if it were a printed object. It could be a small garden that attracts lots of bees. It could be a friendship, or the ability to bond with any cat on the street, or a dance move.
The important thing is that it feels good or consoling and that it allows you to be heard or seen in some way - and appreciated - even just by one living thing, human or animal. The other option, always, is to write the book. Welcome.
Sometimes I think of a woman who had been writing poems for several decades. After she died, her sister sent her collection of poems to me. The poems were raw with emotion. The woman had had a number of tragedies in her life.
One morning she was swimming in a lake near her home and she looked up to see her house, at the lake edge, on fire. That image has always stayed with me. When I get overwhelmed about the number of books in the world – published, unpublished, written, unwritten – I think of those poems and hope that the writing of them was, in some way, enough.
Writing your book does not mean you must publish it. As I look around and see more and more people with their books, some gestating, some emerging, some freshly published – all of the books clambering over one another for a little light – I sometimes think there's something kind of wonderful about the unwritten book.
As long as you don't keep telling people about it in great detail, that is. The unwritten book is rich with possibility. It is brilliantly original; it is important.
Maybe leaving it unwritten is the greatest thing you could do for it. Unwritten, it will always be perfect.