True Stories: The love story that never got published

There’s a certain romance to being a writer–unless you are one, of course. Whenever I meet a person and tell them I write, their reaction usually includes “I always wanted to write” or “I have a book in me” or “boy, do I have a story for you to write about.” Every time.

Only one time, the woman actually had written a book. One very worthy of being published. “It’s seen daylight about as often as my husband’s golf clubs–never.” Of course, I asked her to tell me what she’d written. In her eloquent, simple words, she told me her own love story, which she’d put into this book. They’d sailed to America on the same boat as teenagers–only they came from different countries and spoke different languages. “Sometimes words are simply too awkward for life’s most beautiful moments. We just didn’t need them.”

I swooned. I blinked and stared. I bit my  lip and welled with emotion at the end. Why, oh WHY didn’t this woman write? I met her at age 91, when her vision was too far gone to finish the task, but the novel was written. Complete. Even typed on a typewriter years ago. “And you never showed it to anyone?”

She shook her head. “I thought I would when I was writing it, but then I realized how stupid I was being.”

She then launched into a tale I’d experienced myself. Hitting the library, she absorbed every book she could find. She had to know what other stories were out there–any like hers? And which publisher might be interested? And slowly, over the months, her confidence eroded. This author had her reading far into the night, and another had her weeping. This book had a complex romance that left you thinking and this other one was much more clever than anything she could do. After reading these and comparing them to her own book, she realized, in her words “I’m not a writer. I’m just not.” Feeling foolish, she buried her manuscript and did not allow anyone else to read it. Eventually she didn’t even know where it was.

But what she didn’t realize is, when she read all these other books, she was only seeing the finished product. In talking to a good writer friend this week, I was reminded of this truth. We can never compare our rough draft–of any sort–to another person’s finished product.

Remember when a bunch of bloggers did that “true beauty” chain blog? Where they each accepted the challenge to post a picture of themselves without makeup and blog about true beauty? If not, maybe you’ve seen those articles–celebs caught without makeup!! The difference always amazed me.

It’s the same reason my mom hesitated to let me play with Barbies. The same reason teen girls beat themselves up for not looking like magazine covers.

We fool ourselves into thinking that this finished product is all there is. We completely forget about the many hours of work, sometimes the help of many other people, including work done to the pictures, that brought about this final version. And often we forget that this beautiful book/person/song/art project had some “makeup-less” moments, too. Most of the celebs pre-makeup looked about like the rest of us. Most bestsellers had first drafts that were awful.

I used to avoid reading books while I tried to write. It discouraged me, because my books never measured anywhere close to the ones already published. Not even in the same ballpark. It gave me the feeling of, “why am I even trying?” The truth is, the book I find on Amazon or at the library is far from the author’s first draft. It may be his third, thirtieth, or even more. It’s also the product of many hands–editors, line editors, publicists, critique partners, beta readers….  it’s like expecting my one-year-old Elena to have the math skills of a third grader. She will probably get there one day, but it will take time and work.

Talking to the 91-year-old would-be-writer made me take a hard look at how much I compared myself to others. My writing vs. published books, my life vs. what I see of other lives on Facebook, my plain face compared to the pretty, fashionable girl with perfect makeup. This is not a valid comparison, but the real truth is, what business do I have comparing myself to anyone? 

None. If God gave me a talent, I should focus on using and improving it, rather than lamenting it isn’t like another person’s. Besides–the fact that it ISN’T like another person’s gives it value. So, I challenge you all to join me in pivoting your focus away from comparison and onto another standard:

“May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in YOUR sight, LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.” Psalm 19:14. (emphasis added)

Instead of focusing on a face that’s pleasing in the mirror, a book that’s pleasing in Amazon reviews, or a life that’s pleasing to your Facebook friends, make it pleasing to the one who gave you that face, talent, and life. He already thinks you’re pretty great.

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