You know how it goes. Someone asks you, and it could be anyone, a waitress at your favorite restaurant, a close friend, a lover. It doesn’t matter who it is, only the way you hear the words when they ask, whisper, demand: What do you want?
And you might say, a burrito with hot sauce; a new job; a long, slow kiss. And while you might really mean this, you might really want a burrito and a new job and long, slow kiss, it’s not what you truly want, what you desire, what you long for, deep inside in that empty place that knocks up against your rib late at night when you can’t sleep.
I’m thinking about the things we want because last week I covered a story for the newspaper about a man who survived a heart attack. He’s only in his 40s and had no overt warning signs, and if his friend hadn’t immediately started CPR, he wouldn’t be alive today.
After writing down all the details of his story, after interviewing the rescue workers and the chief of the fire department, I leaned forward and asked him, and my voice was low, almost secretive. I asked him what he wanted, now that he had come so close to death–what is it he wanted to do with his life?
He paused for a moment.
“I want a family,” he said. Then he shrugged his shoulders, as if embarrassed that after everything that happened, this is what it came down to, this simple need: Family, love, a house filled with children.
On the drive home I started thinking about what I want, not just in my life but as a writer. Of course I want my books to be wildly successful. I want to reach readers. I want to quit my day job and live off my books.
Yet as I drove past the mountains, the setting sun casting shadows over the peaks, I thought of the nights I stayed up late working on Dolls Behaving Badly, my first book. And what kept me going wasn’t money or fame or book contracts.
It was a my ideal reader.
I imagined this reader as a woman curled on the couch late at night and reading my book after a hard day. I imagined that she was tired and sick of her life, and that she needed to laugh, to be transported from her problems; she needed to feel better.
Then Dolls Behaving Badly published and I became caught up in promotion and social media and numbers and sales, and while I realize that all of that is important, I lost sight of what is the most important.
And then a few weeks ago I received an email from a young woman. She told me how much she loved my book, that she read it over and over, that she was going through a tough time in her life and that my book made her feel better. Then she thanked me for writing it.
I cried, of course. And I realized that this is why I write, that all of the emails from author Websites prompting me to take this class or that workshop to increase sales or boost Website hits or lure readers are nothing more than outside noise. My writing, and my words, are what is important. I long to write in the same way that man who had a heart attack now longs for a family.
It’s what I really want.