I’m a breakfast person. Doesn’t have to be big or fancy. Just enough coffee to jolt me into a new day and something utilitarian to eat to stave off hunger for a few hours. But is the breakfast table a wellspring of creativity? Hardly. I’m too busy catching up with my husband and the day’s headlines. Or as my beloved dad would say, “If you want to know who is going to have a worse day than you read the front page of the paper.” And yet one gray October morning last year, I stared at a hot cup of hazelnut and said nothing because I was deep in thought.
I was pondering the painful question many writers ask. Should I quit?
The day before I’d met with a potential agent who told me I was a very talented writer. Funny, honest and engaging, she said. And yet my work-in-progress, a middle grade novel about a girl who communicated with her dead mother, a novel I’d been revising for six years, okay seven, was an unreadable mess. “Of course, this is only my opinion,” she said. “Others may feel differently.”
Forget the damn coffee. I wanted to stick a straw into a bottle of wine.
In my favor, the agent offered to read a revision, but the prospect of starting over again was incapacitating. And even if I agreed with her about the book’s fatal flaws, I had to be honest. I had fallen out of love with the story. Like waking up and realizing a long-term affair was over and it was time to move on. Besides, wouldn’t it be so much more fun to run away and meet someone new? New makes your heart beat faster. New makes you smile and dance. New makes you imagine great possibilities.
New gives you hope.
A few minutes later, I magically scribbled these words on a greasy napkin. A LOT ON HER PLATE. Wait. What? Who had a lot on her plate and why? I’m happy to say I’ve spent the past fourteen months finding out and the journey has been more personal and resonant than I ever imagined. Turns out it was time to explore the toxic diet culture that had robbed me from a joyful existence since I was a young teen. That had convinced me I was unworthy of happiness because I wasn’t thin. That had so altered my perception of my body that self-loathing was my bestie. But would I actually have the courage to reveal my truths?
In this middle-grade novel, I delve into a twelve-year old girl’s emerging relationship with food and the battles it ignites with her diet-crazed, carb-counting mother. Did I mention that when I was in high school my mother signed me up for Weight Watchers, certain they could teach me to love unlimited vegetables (anyone else remember #3s and #4s???)? That her goal for me was not only to lose weight but to become a lifetime member? All it did was put me on a track for a lifetime of misery.
They say to write what you know. And what scares the crap out of you. I did and have never been more satisfied.