Last weekend, I checked a major item off my bucket list, an item I thought would forever be filed under the “wishful thinking” category. My best friend and I left early Sunday morning, stopping first for egg white english muffins, then began the 5 hour drive from New York to South Portland, Maine, a city so far north, we could practically see Canada from its icy port.
What would prompt such an ambitious day trip, you might ask? Meeting my favorite author, Liz Gilbert, the woman who penned my favorite memoir, Eat, Pray, Love and many other, lesser known but inspiring books. Only a couple weeks prior, I had randomly looked on her website to check out reviews and to get info on her newly released novel. I was elated to find that she would be wrapping up her 7-week book signing in a modest, port-town in southern Maine. It was decided.
We arrived an hour early to a Books-A-Million where a handful of rows of fold-out chairs were facing a podium of beautifully stacked books. In keeping with the botany themed novel, the podium of Liz’s novels resembled a rounded, garden wall.
“Let’s sit on the front row!” Kelsey suggested. We were among the first to arrive.
I’m not a front row sort of person, but it was my big opportunity to be up-close to the muse I have admired so long. The minute hand rounded to the top of the hour, minutes before Liz was to arrive, when a pleasant, late 20’s, trendy woman sat in the reserved seat beside me which was labeled “Lindsey.”
“So you’re Lindsey,” everyone acknowledged curiously. “Did you win a contest on the radio to get front row? Are you going to get a personalized signed copy of her book?” Someone inquired further.
“Well no,” she said humbly. “I’m Elizabeth’s publicist!”
In one exaggerated motion, I turned towards Kelsey, my mouth open. I was sitting beside a best-selling author’s publicist, and she looked more down to earth than I did! For fear of being the token creep at book signings, I refrained from telling her I was a writer and needed help and would die to be published and wanted to be just like Liz when I grew up.
Then Liz arrived. She walked from behind a children’s bookshelf with a cup of coffee, a fresh face and the most genuine smile I’d ever seen. The group of 40 or so avid fans began to applaud, and I was more starstruck than I’d ever been. She was so real, so approachable.
I clung to every word she said, admiring her well-crafted, spontaneous stories and words constructed with such wisdom. She read an excerpt from her book, graciously took questions and answered each one without a hint of impatience, though this was an exhausting last stop before heading home. Time, space and my memory doesn’t permit inclusion of her many stories, but here are some encouraging snippets I took away from that wonderful day and ones I hope you, too, can use to unearth true confidence. I’ve been struggling lately with the distractions of discouragement, publishing and being noticed as a writer. This pep talk was just what I needed. And you don’t have to be a writer to find wisdom in her words, you just have to be an inspired person who’s desperate to share your talent— whatever it may be.
Commit to an idea and don’t stop working at it until it is complete. Sometimes starting a project or endeavor is the hardest part, but as we build momentum, it gets easier. Keep writing, keep singing, keep learning, keep performing. Don’t look down lest you be distracted with a fear of falling.
Prepare well and do your research because “future you” will thank “past you” for taking the initiative to create a plan. Instead of having to go into a cluttered room with a tiny brush and painting around pictures on the wall, do the prep work, move the furniture, tape the door frames and paint the trim. When all you have left to do is roll the walls, you’ll give “past self” a high five.
Conquer the uncertainty of living up to past achievements. Sometimes, when we set the bar high, there is subconscious panic that comes with trying to surpass it. After staying on the best seller list for 200 weeks, Liz was terrified that her next attempt would be a failure. Nothing could top Eat, Pray, Love, could it? “Two things could happen when I published after EPL,” Liz said. “It would either be well-received or people would wonder why I was still being published and still living.” You can’t let the fear of risk outweigh your desire to try.
When it comes to writing (or any art, really) there is no risk other than your own ego and self-confidence. No one will die because This or That Journal rejected your short story. Share your work with people who are close to you, your cheering sections, your positive fan base, your dear friends and family. Build calluses and work your way up.
Liz signed my book and I told her what I told you. “Meeting you has been on my bucket list for years,” I said nervously and shook her hand. “This is such a wonderful day.”
“That’s so sweet,” she replied. “But make sure you add a lot more to that list, ok?”
And I vowed to do so.