Since the first copy of my book arrived ten days ago, I have been dwelling in a sweet spot: everyone is proud of me for writing a book, but no one has read it.
I wish it could be this way forever.
Since I started writing Leave It All, I’ve been plagued by doubts. I know all artists have some self doubt, but for good reason: sometimes it turns out to be warranted.
I worry that the book is stupid. Boring. Politically incorrect. Not relatable. Poorly titled. (Is this how it is when you think of a name for a baby? Do you just have to pick something and say it until it’s not weird?) Makes me look like an asshole. Makes me look naive.
One of my worst fears is that it is poorly written. Even with all the work I’ve done, I’m still working with writing I produced as a 23-year-old. I think I’m a better writer now than I was then. I think what I wrote about the Camino is prettier than what I wrote for the book. What if people who like my blog buy the book and find it a piece of crap?
Since people are about to be able to confirm or deny these worries, I decided to beat them to the punch and read it first. Most of this year has been about design, formatting, and copyrights, so I’ve been away from the actual text of Leave It All for months and months. I’ve become so familiar with it, I can’t see it as a whole anymore anyway.
But time is up. I have to read it. Before the books descend. Like Hitchcock’s birds.
It’s really, really hard to sit down with the only existing copy of my book and open it to the first page. Even though I know how it starts, I try to read every word as if I didn’t.
It isn’t so bad at first. I like the preface. I did a good job with the preface. I like the first page.
But a couple pages in, I see a sentence missing quotation marks at the end. My blood runs cold. My face turns red.
Then I see an entry that should have had a section break to indicate a passage of time. Then I see another entry with the same problem. Why hadn’t I seen that when I went through the proof? Of course I didn’t see that. Of course, there had to be mistakes I didn’t catch until it was too late. Does this make me look unprofessional? Does it make the text confusing? Does it undermine the legitimacy of the whole book, if mistakes like this got through? Will it prevent me from being taken seriously?
When I see a character name that didn’t get changed in every instance, I get up and pace around my room, panicking. I don’t know what to do. I have to ship this book out.
The text feels choppy and hurried. I wish I used more complete sentences. I wish I wrote more about other people and less about myself. I wish I articulated my faith more clearly. I spot more words and formatting choices I wish I could change.
My editor told me this would happen, but it doesn’t comfort me.
Every page contains something that eliminates another potential reader. The religious talk will weird out my customers at the coffee shop. The desire to evangelize will alienate my progressive church community. The disgust at evangelism will alienate my conservative church community. The immature tone will alienate my parents’ friends. The profanity will disappoint my grandpa. The skepticism will offend the faithful. The faith will offend the skeptics. The talk of homesickness will sadden my parents. The romance will weird out my boyfriend. The failure to speak enough of my friends on the journey will offend my squad-mates. The tragedy back home that year will hurt the Concordia Christian Academy community. The lack of answers at the end will disappoint the seekers. The preoccupation with describing landscapes and my own poop over serving God will annoy actual missionaries. The talk of mission work at all will creep out everyone else.
I’m on page 39 of 286 by the time I determine that no one will like this book.
Then, it’s even harder to keep reading.
But I do. I am not the 23-year-old who wrote this diary. This younger version of me talked about God differently. She got down on herself if she didn’t read the Bible every day. She was afraid she wasn’t outgoing enough. She was afraid to travel to new countries. I’m not this person anymore. What if people read this and assume I’m like this still, and I’ll only ever be seen as this snapshot of myself? It’s what I do to Hilary Duff: she’ll always be Lizzie McGuire to me.
I read about my first encounters with people of different Christian traditions. I read about people rebuking lice in the name of Jesus, and about four-hour-long church services, and about the day we cast out a demon. I read how I somehow managed to watch the Jack Black version of King Kong three times. I read about how my faith deepened. I read about how my faith withered. I read about the difficulty of returning to the States after a year abroad.
I read about all the questions I had about my faith: about whether it was okay to doubt in God, whether miraculous healings were real, whether there was something wrong with me for not speaking in tongues, whether I had any right to be in other people’s countries as a short-term missionary, whether death and danger had meaning or not. I read and see how few of those questions were answered, but how consolation came regardless.
I read it and see that it’s not a primer on mission work. It’s not a self-help book. It’s not about being a backpacker. It’s not a romance. It’s not theology. It’s not a tragedy. It’s not humor. It’s just… my diary.
I published my diary. No wonder I feel vulnerable.
I decide to stick by by 23-year-old self. She wrote this book, after all. I will not focus on how she’s a worse writer than me and has weird ideas and is naive. I decide to listen to her, believe her, and read her words with openness instead of cynicism. After all, that’s the way I know my loved ones will read it.
The prospect of publishing my personal diary has at times felt self-exploitative, but as I read it and try to have grace for it, I find that it might be an act of kindness. I have just spent three years legitimizing a chapter of my life’s story. By publishing it, I’ve brought it into the present again and invited people into it, to retrieve whatever they will from it.
I hope some people like my book. I hope they think it’s good. I think it would be cool if someday I broke even and ended up making back all the money I spent publishing it. A podcast from a New England public radio station emailed me and it would be cool if it worked out and I did an interview with them. It would be sweet if I got more than a hundred views on this website.
But whether or not it’s good, I can say with certainty and pride that it is honest.
And anyway, whether I’m ready or not, UPS just dropped 312 books on my doorstep. It’s time.