My greatest fear
... is a waste of time. Literally!!!
Welcome to So Relatable, a bi-weekly newsletter featuring conversations about the creative process, suggestions for nourishing yourself, and inspiring links. Hit reply to say hi! I love hearing from you.
A few weeks ago I read Beautiful World, Where Are You?, Sally Rooney’s much-hyped new novel. For once, the hype was deserved. I thought the book was perfect, but when I reached the last page another feeling bubbled up, something dark and a bit disturbing: deep and utter despair.
The novel’s perfection was the problem. The interesting structure! The pitch-perfect dialogue! The emotionally unavailable yet easily recognizable characters with abysmal communication skills! The way it revealed truths about our flawed world I’d felt but never been able to put into words! It was exactly the kind of book I’m trying to write, but at least a hundred times better.
The next morning when I opened my draft, those dark feelings of despair lingered. Compared to Rooney, my sentences were clumsy and trite, my characters shallow and dull. I couldn’t shake the terrifying thought that all the time and effort I spent writing was pointless, a complete and utter waste. I kept writing, but the light had dimmed.
Hello, existential crisis.
And then, less than a week later, I attended a virtual seminar called “How to Get a Book Deal the Easy Way,” hosted by the writer Leigh Stein. I signed up for the class long before my Sally Rooney meltdown, but the timing was perfect. Here’s a bit of the description from Leigh’s website:
It isn’t the most beautifully written 300-page manuscripts that rise to the top—in the era of short attention spans, it’s the killer concept that sells. Learn how to answer the question, “What’s your book about?” in a way that makes a reader go, holy shit I want to read THAT book!
During the seminar, Leigh led us through different exercises which encouraged us to reflect not just on the stories we were trying to tell, but on the experience we wanted to give the reader. It was a small yet profound shift in perspective.
Leigh workshopped our concepts in real time(!), and as she tweaked mine, I had an epiphany: I don’t have to be the next Sally Rooney to write a good book that reaches the right audience. After all, some people don’t even like Sally Rooney! Some people hate emotionally unavailable characters! Some people finish reading Beautiful World, Where Are You?, love it, and immediately reach for the next book in their TBR pile. There’s no reason it can’t be mine.
I work in marketing, and one thing I like about Leigh (in addition to her book!) is the fact that she treats writing as both an art and a business. Your audience is out there, waiting for an experience only you can give them. Her seminar helped me clarify my vision and communicate that experience—an excellent strategy, and an even better writing exercise. Here’s what I ended up with:
For fans of Beautiful World, Where Are You? and The Talented Mr. Ripley, THE DELINQUENT is an absurd, intelligent and surprisingly moving literary update of Bonnie and Clyde. When Avery, a jaded millennial saddled with student loan debt, meets Marcus, a charismatic insurance adjuster with questionable morals, the pair seize an opportunity to run a scam and make a killing. As their increasingly complicated plan unfolds, Avery must decide if getting everything she wants is worth losing everyone she loves. THE DELINQUENT will provoke, entertain, and make readers question their beliefs about right and wrong.
A few days after the seminar, I started reading a new book that isn’t as good as Sally Rooney’s, but it’s still interesting and well-written. It scratches a different itch; it still deserves to exist. That’s the thing about writing, about art—you don’t earn your right to create by being the best. You earn it by trying.
A killer concept doesn’t hurt, either.
Snack of the Week
Last night two friends turned thirty and we celebrated with a funeral for their youth at my favorite bar. The party started at 5pm, which is my ideal time to gather—you can socialize all night and still be in bed by 9! Guests were instructed to wear their most mournful black attire, skeletons and spiderwebs adorned the patio, the cake turned everyone’s tongue blue, and these cookies were frighteningly cute. An excellent way to spend Halloween Eve! And to Mary and Zach—my condolences on your loss, and welcome to your 30s. You’re in a better place now. 💀
Should I Quit My Job to Focus on My Writing? Craft Talk. “All I definitely know is that if you love to write, you should write. But do you need to quit your job to do it? Or do you just need to reconsider how you’re spending your time already?” Obviously I believe a person can have a fulfilling career and still make time for their art (👋) but I still appreciated Jami’s take on this question.
The Joy & Opportunity Of Dropping A Routine, Bustle. “There’s really no need to fill our remaining moments of freedom trying desperately to incorporate juicing into your day because you think you maybe read an article one time about Jennifer Aniston doing it.” Related: my issue about quitting. 💌
"It Was Like I’d Never Done It Before": How Sally Rooney Wrote Again, New York Times.* “When you inhabit a time of enormous historic crises, and you’re concerned about it, how do you justify to yourself that the thing to which you’ve chosen to dedicate your life is making up fake people who have fake love affairs with each other?” I thoroughly enjoyed this glimpse into Rooney’s process for obvious reasons. 🌎
It’s Time for Americans to Buy Less Stuff, Vox. “When the stuff we want is so hard to get ahold of, why go to such great lengths to buy it?” As someone who hates shopping for anything other than groceries, I fully support this take! 📦
*NYT gift link—no subscription needed, and clicking won’t count toward your free articles!
Thank you to Emily W. and Arianna V. for your generous support! Coffee is the best defense against despair.
Want to treat me to a ☕️ and support So Relatable? 💛 💃 🙌
Venmo: @Christine-Hennessey or PayPal Me.
Can’t afford a contribution? You can also click the ♡ below, forward it to a friend, or share the link on social media. Every little bit helps!