Some months ago my literary agent arranged a dinner for me with an editor from Boston to pitch my book. Normally agents keep authors and publishers apart until the process looks promising. Then, they bring us out into the light praying we don’t stick a fork in our heads once the editing powers begin to press us with observations regarding our work.
As we began to discuss the specifics of my story she began asking a lot of very specific and direct questions, which I found a bit puzzling since she had read my proposal and synopsis prior to our meeting.
Her questions ranged from what it is about my story that is going to make someone want to read it, to what I want the reader to come away thinking differently about, and about a hundred other questions in between.
As I began answering her questions she listened intently. She would pause, put down her fork, and then ask yet another insightful and difficult question. I began to fear that I wasn’t making myself clear so I would repeat myself or try to find another way to say the same thing. This line of probing went on from the salad through most of the main course.
Finally, she leaned in and said, “I get the whole ironic nature of your life and everything that felt like one big contradiction about you. I need to know what the ‘IT’ is! What are you really about?”
After my futile attempts at satisfying her pressing inquiries I was finally able to let down my guard and process aloud what she was really asking.
“I’m not writing this hoping that people put down my book and say what a sucky life I’ve had,” I said. “I’m not writing so that I can shock them with my drunk-a-logues or my sad sick wife sagas. I’m not even writing to confuse anyone with my conflicted spiritual perspectives that came from all of this. I’m writing about the silence between the instant the conductor raises his baton and the time that the most beautiful music is unleashed upon us. I’m writing about the tension in the silence. That’s where I live, and that’s where everyone lives. I’m not writing to change people. I’m writing to change the way we think about it. My story is just a conduit.”
In that moment she smiled more broadly than she had all night. She slapped the table and leaned in and said, “That’s your ‘IT’! That’s your book and that is what you are really writing about. Now that you know your ‘IT’ you will tell your same story from a completely different perspective and that is the one that the reader needs to read.”
How many of us go through our lives and never find the “IT” – that thing that we are really about? “IT” changes the way we tell the story.