Photo by Beowulf Sheehan
Kimberly McCreight is the New York Times bestselling author of Reconstructing Amelia, which was nominated for the Edgar, Anthony, and Alex Awards and was called Entertainment Weekly’s Favorite Book of the Year. Reconstructing Amelia has been optioned for film by HBO and Nicole Kidman’s Blossom Films. Ms. McCreight’s second adult novel, Where They Found Her, was a USA Today bestseller and a Kirkus Best Mystery of the Year. The Outliers, the first book in her teen trilogy, also a New York Times bestseller, has been optioned for film by Lionsgate, Mandeville, and Reese Witherspoon’s Pacific Standard. The second book in the trilogy, The Scattering, will be published in May 2017. Ms. McCreight attended Vassar College and graduated cum laude from the University of Pennsylvania Law School. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her husband and two daughters.
For years, I was in denial.
No, I was not a writer, I told myself. I could not, would not be a writer. In college, I actually avoided anything having to do with writing lest I be tempted to entertain the possibility.
As the survivor of a tumultuous childhood, security was critical to me. I knew that no part of writing—not the doing of it, not the selling of it, much less the succeeding at it—was certain. So, I vowed, I would forgo that particular road less traveled, for a well-paved highway. I was going to law school.
Law school was really pretty interesting, too—the long talks about the injustice of stop and frisk procedures, the debates about flaws in FDA drug approval. And then there’s that crystal clear trajectory off it (back, at least, in those boom economic years): study hard + good grades = great job.
Simple, straightforward, safe.
And after three years of my nose to the grindstone (with numerous abandoned novels tucked safely in my drawer), I was awarded my prizes upon graduation: a eighty-hour-a-week job with an excellent corporate firm and $150,000 in law school debt. Oh yes, and the sinking realization that I’d have to be a lawyer now, for real. And for the rest of my life.
Three months in, I quit my first job as a lawyer when I had to go into work a couple hours after completing the New York Marathon. But I still had all those law school loans, oh yeah, and that blind terror of uncertainty, so I joined another firm. It was a vast improvement. Except, of course, for the whole having-to-be-a-lawyer part.
Two months into the new firm, I was coming to accept that I could no longer outrun myself. I was not a lawyer. Not deep down. No matter how much I wanted to be. No, I was destined for a much bumpier road, like it or not. Luckily, I was still only twenty-eight years old. It wasn’t too late to be brave.
So while working those eighty-hour-weeks, I started waking at 4:00 a.m. to write short stories that weren’t very good. I did that for two years, taking online writing classes, asking friends for feedback, tentatively telling people I wanted to be a writer. Trying it all on for size. Praying for a sign.
That sign came when my then-fiancé was offered a one-year transfer to London. I was lucky enough to be able to take a leave of absence, defer payments of my loans for the year and pack my bags. If I can write and sell a book within the year, I told myself, then that will be that. And if I can’t then that will be that too: I’ll put my writing dreams to bed, for good.
I kept at least part of my own bargain. I took writing classes and went to readings and loved living in London. I finished my first book in six months. Two months and fifty query letters later, I had an agent. And I thought to myself, what was I so scared of anyway? This isn’t going to be that hard after all.
That was in June. Of the year 2001.
Reconstructing Amelia, my fifth novel written, was sold with the help of my fabulous third agent, just this past February. Eleven years later. Luckily, the part of my own bargain that I never could seem to keep—even when I seemed crazy, even to myself—was the part about giving up.
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New York Times
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