It’s happened before, more than once. I find myself standing in the middle of Barnes & Noble, overcome with a deep and inescapable sense of fear. I am surrounded by books, words, thousands upon thousands of other people’s masterpieces.
I am seeking publication: for my first book, for a slew of articles, for a good handful of essays.
And there I am, in a place where words – many of them artful and beautiful – outnumber people. Words that other people have penned, words with which other people have found success.
I stand there and look around and think, I expect my own 50,000-word manuscript to compete with this?
Inevitably, I shake off what little fear I can get to let go of me – enough, at least, to start moving again – and tell myself to get over it. It’s a futile attempt at rising above that fear, that self-doubt that is every writer’s nemesis, that voice that taunts, Who do you think you are and what do you have to offer to anyone?
Turns out I am not alone in this experience with a big bookstore. In the Nov/Dec issue of Poets & Writers magazine, writer David Malki! (sic) speaks of a similar experience. His article, “9 Ways to Feel a Bookstore,” refers to the bookstore as “an ecosystem that we really don’t understand.”
Until I read this article, I had never discussed with anyone except my husband the fear that bookstores produced in me, the power they had to belittle. Did I think I was the only writer to ever have experienced this phenomenon in the middle of B & N? Maybe not. I just don’t know that I thought outside myself at all.
So as you can imagine, reading about another writer’s perplexities over a bookstore washed some sort of comfort over me, producing that “Aha” moment when I realized I was not alone.
Malki!, though, goes further. He insists “that a person who wishes to be [of] the bookstore – a part of its innards, a piece of meat wending through its guts – must see the place differently, as a chessboard or as a forward battlefield encampment or as more than just a place to get lost.”
In other words, as writers we have to look at a bookstore and take charge. Eat it up. Seek out those words that surround us and find out why they matter. And where our own fit.
You can find my name in a Barnes and Noble, if you look really hard. Pick up a copy of Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks Mom, and turn to page 86. Or seek out the preteen book No Body’s Perfect: Stories by Teens About Body Image, Self-Acceptance, and the Search for Identity and turn to page 159 to read a rhyming poem I might blush over now.
I have more words to share, though, than this. And I hope, in the coming months and years, that I will find myself standing in the middle of a Barnes & Noble, not shuddering in fear over the seemingly insurmountable challenge of making my name be among the others, but excitedly pointing out to someone where in this place I have made my words fit and why they matter.