What If By Anne Lamott

I just got dumped.

It’s not exactly what you might think.

But it feels close.

I had an agent for my nearly-completed memoir.

Now I don’t.

Well, I guess it’s more accurate to say, I had what I considered a verbal agreement with an agent. Now I have a verbal confirmation that I no longer have a verbal agreement.

It’s a lot of semantics.

It’s a lot of heartache.

It’s a lot of starting over.

I’ve poured my heart and soul into this memoir. It’s everything. All of it. Every dark corner, every unturned stone of my life. It’s my blood and guts and bones. And now it’s standing out there without anyone to usher it into the world.

I won’t name my former agent or bash her in any way. I adore her. We spent a gorgeous Pacific Northwest summer day together, eating, and talking, and laughing, and taking selfies, and I thought she was the one. She thought I was the one.

Then, last week, she decided memoir was no longer her thing. It was a business decision. I get business decisions. But I also get decisions that are less about business and more about heart. That’s where I choose to stand. I can no longer choose practicality over heart. I’ve done it for too long.

“I can’t pay my bills with passion projects,” she said. “It’s the industry. And I hate to blame things on the industry — it feels like such a cop-out. But it’s true. It’s reality.”

It’s not you, it’s me.

We’ve all heard that before, right?

“Your writing is gorgeous; your story, life-changing. Like no one else I’ve ever known, you can turn tragedy into triumph. It breaks my heart that I have to say no.”

We both cried. (One of us might have cried a little harder than the other.)

There wasn’t much more to say. I wasn’t going to try to convince her to stay, to list all the ways I’d make this worth her while, to lay out the glorious adventure we’d take together. In many ways, it’s like a lost love. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. You don’t want to coax or coerce it into a reluctant and damaged existence. You don’t want to beg or plead or cajole. Once certain thresholds have been crossed, there’s no going back.

But like most things in life, there’s a lesson.

This one was about bravery. About the different places we each are in our life journeys.

“I’ve lost my nerve,” she admitted. “I’ve been burned too many times in the recent past with projects that didn’t sell like I thought they would. I’m going to stick with cookbooks, with celebrities, with the closest I can get to a ‘sure thing.’ It hurts my own reader’s soul, but this is the world we exist in right now. This is what publishers are interested in. That’s where the big deals are made. That’s what pays my mortgage.”

It’s easy to lose our nerve. It is. It’s easy to find ourselves stumbling into scarcity when abundance continues to slip through our fingers. I know. I get it. I’ve lived it.

But I also know this…

I can no longer live in scarcity. I can no longer exist in “good enough” or “maybe next time.” I have reached a crossroads, and there is no doubling back. My path has become infinitely clear: Now. Now. Now.

There is one life, and it is happening Now.

I cannot move forward with someone who cannot move forward with me… 1,000%. And I am moving forward. I have been stagnant in many ways. I have acquiesced. I cannot do it any longer. I have lived a life for others, to please others, to be accepted by others. It’s been a good, good life, but it hasn’t been a fully authentic life.

It hasn’t been my life.

I believe in my story, in my words. I have precious others who do, too. My tribe. My loyal fans. My squad. The always-theres. The never-give-ups.

What my former agent reminded me was this: Fear is incapacitating. It is weak. It is a position of defeat. I could hear it in her voice. I could feel it when she spoke. It settled into the very air around me and sucked the life from my lungs. Fear keeps us small. It keeps us locked tightly in the illusion of safety, in a fragile circle of security and comfort and familiarity.

But everything that matters — everything — rests outside that circle of perceived safety. Our hopes. Our dreams. Our ambitions. The legacy we leave our children. The example we set for our friends, for our lovers.

The passion. The promise. The potential.

That’s where I intend to live now. Wholeheartedly. I’m embracing what I know in my gut to be true and real. For too long, I ignored that inner knowing. No longer. No longer.

My new agent is out there. The one who will knock down publishing house doors with fire and passion and belief. My new adventure is that I get to discover her.

The one.

The right one.

The only one.

I’m lacing up my boots and heading out to find her now.

Then we’re going to share a glass of red together.

As it was always meant to be.

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10 Responses

  1. Oh my heavens, even though I knew the story, I just hung on every word. That is what you do. You share your pain and struggle in way that helps me see and understand my own. And the “inner knowing” — yes, that is what I feel about you and your work and your words and why I will never give up until this masterpiece memoir is held in hands around the world who have been waiting their whole lives to read. And at last, their healing will come.

    The last three lines. Oh my heart. I just bawled. I rejoice today that you found your strength … and I think to myself: that is one lucky woman to be found.

    PS And as Scott always says, “Isn’t there some way YOU could represent Katrina?” (He trusts my gut too and believes me when I say this is Oscar winning material!)

  2. You don’t have to wait for an agent/gatekeeper either. There is a brave, not-so-new world of self-publishing out there, and you can control your destiny and choose to share your words with others *without* being a slave to the realities of traditional book publishing (which is a terrible business). It’s easier now to become your own Imprint than to find an agent and get an old-school book deal.

    Go for it!

  3. You are such an inspiration…Please come here and kick me in the butt right now. I will regret it terribly if I don’t ever get my memoir done. Go go go and that new agent person is going to grab onto your project and run it right up the best seller flagpole!!

  4. your story speaks to me and steps on my life force nerve. I have recently come out and and have also began following my long lived dream of becoming a musician. I don’t know where it will go but im going. All the best, follow your heart and trust your athenticity Kathy

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