I pinned these words to my bulletin board at work:
“I love your writing...your phrasing, your pace—totally my speed, and I like your innate ability to narrate in a voice that's smart, a little sassy, and completely relatable. If I didn't know you and I just happened to stumble upon something you'd written, I'd totally wish I could meet you and we could have a glass of wine and become BFFs. :) Somewhere in the space between these two essays, there's a New York Times bestselling novel.”
My co-worker-come-new-best-friend e-mailed these words to me after reading two of my essays. I wasn't writing regularly, but I had a few samples of my work. I looked at those words of hers often. I was mystified. The “New York Times bestselling novel” always threw me for a loop. What in the world did she know that I did not? Why could she believe that there was a bestselling work in me and I could not? I clung to these words as I hoped to someday believe in my ability the way she did. I could have believed her words if she'd written book in place of novel, but I just knew I didn't have a novel in me.
Months passed and this idea of a novel kept popping up in our conversations. If I'm honest, it frustrated me. I didn't have a story idea. I kind of wished she'd let go of the notion that I could write a novel. But she pressed on.
On January 3, 2015, I celebrated my birthday surrounded by my closest friends in St. Louis. I had written an essay about a difficult circumstance and asked my friends if I could read it to them. With tears choking my ability to get the words out, I poured out painful truths from my heart to the page to the open air. I finished reading. I wiped my tears that streamed down my cheeks, and looked up at my friends.
“What do I do with this? I know it's not finished. It feels incomplete, but I don't know where to go next.” It was a first attempt at writing some of my painful truth. I was way out of my comfort zone. I felt shaky, but I knew I was safe surrounded by these women as I explored writing the hard stuff. Everyone at the table knew these circumstances because they had counseled me through them at different times over the years.
“I'd like to hear more at this particular point,” one friend suggested.
And then it happened.
“I think this is a character sketch for a novel,” suggested the friend who believed I had a novel in me. She looked at me with a smirk. She was unapologetic in her belief in my novel-writing potential.
This was getting serious. Her belief in me was persistent. And contagious.
A character named Astrid appeared in my imagination and introduced herself to me a few days later. I was so surprised. With no idea what to do next, I let her take up residence in my mind. That was 10 months ago. Astrid's now a beloved friend, a work of my own creation. I love her deeply.