Photo credit: Victor Ng
A confession: I don’t feel like a “real" writer.
I realize that’s a loony thing to admit as I’m publishing my first book. Sure, my career in politics has been built on the ability to write something that will make someone else take action, whether that’s donating, volunteering, or registering to vote; I even got my start writing and sending marketing emails for President Barack Obama
and did the same for Hillary Clinton
’s presidential campaign.
But to me, that has never felt like “real" writing, primarily because so much of what I do involves strategy, analysis, and management. To me, real writing is what the authors and journalists I admire do: create something out of nothing, foster empathy between the reader and a character, and use language to make me laugh, cry, and feel. "Real" writing is what I retreat to when I’m stressed out.
Because, while I’m not a real writer, I am a “real” reader. I alternate between literary fiction, "chick lit," romance, memoir, YA, short stories, and essay collections. I never leave home without a book. (Aside: One brutal night in September 2016, my computer and Kindle were stolen out of my bag at a bar. It was annoying to lose my new laptop, but the idea of going without something to read for more than a day or two was devastating. My coworkers kindly pooled together the funds to help me replace it, reminding me of how nice it is to be known.)
My reading material often reflects my state of mind. I knew exactly how stressed I was during the 2016 presidential election whenever I reviewed the ever-growing list of books I was buying. During the worst parts of the primary, I devoured romance novels like candy; anything more involved would’ve been too taxing. On my rare days off, on train rides to and from the office, or late at night when I couldn’t sleep, I sped through books by Roxane Gay
, Sophie Kinsella
, Alice Hoffman
, Geraldine Brooks
, Nicola Yoon
, Zadie Smith
, Jay McInerney
, Jennifer Weiner
, Jessi Klein
, Jenny Han
, Matthew Norman
— anyone and anything I could find.
I craved books that took me out of politics and put me into a world that was nothing like my 24/7 Trump-inflicted nightmare. I wanted a respite from my 100-hour work weeks and my heartbreak. I was desperate to stop thinking and to feel someone else’s feelings.
I imagine a democracy where the people making decisions...aren’t all rich, old, white men, but are instead people like you, me, and those I read about in my favorite novels: flawed, but passionate, committed, and well-intentioned.
When I sat down to write Run for Something: A Real-Talk Guide to Fixing the System Yourself
, I got lost in the same way.
I wrote this book in seven furious weeks, mostly between the hours of 11 p.m. and 3 a.m., with HGTV on in the background and a lot of painkillers in my system as I recovered from knee surgery. I had a web of Google docs I dropped notes into; I would often sit on the train, trying desperately to open the correct one to tap-tap-tap my thoughts into before I forgot them. I’d stand on one leg in the shower, unable to put weight on my still-swollen knee, arguing out loud to myself (and my dog, who’d wait patiently for me on the bath mat). I’d start typing, look up, and notice hours had gone by.
And still, I don’t feel like a “real" writer. My book isn’t chock-full of empathetic characters, nor am I painting a picture with beautiful, artful prose. (Although I do hope my book makes you think and laugh and inspires you to take action.) Run for Something
isn’t escapist in the typical sense of the word.
But if I’m being generous with myself, I will grant this: My book allows you to imagine a country a little better than our own, as it stands. It’s a place where you could be in charge. I imagine a democracy where the people making decisions about our health care, our wages, our education, the safety of our neighborhoods, and the cleanliness of our water aren’t all rich, old, white men, but are instead people like you, me, and those I read about in my favorite novels: flawed, but passionate, committed, and well-intentioned.
I argue that people like us need to run for office and be the kind of politicians others would want to vote for — to campaign on values and community, not lies and hatred. The saddest truth is that in Trump’s America, this kind of idealism and hope for the future nearly counts as escapism.
So while I still cringe when people say, “Oh, you wrote a book, you’re a writer,” I realize that in this regard, my feelings don’t matter. In my day job running an organization also called Run for Something, I talk to potential candidates for office all day long. So many say to me, “I don’t look, act, or feel like a real politician.” And I say back to them, “The way you become a ‘real' politician is by showing up, knocking on doors, making your argument, and truly listening to voters. Running for office is the quintessential ‘fake it 'til you make it’ experience, because in the process, you will become what you feel like you’re pretending to be.”
Who cares if they don’t feel like a “real" politician, and what does it matter if I don’t feel like a “real" writer? How I feel is irrelevant; it’s what I do that makes a difference. (A therapist might disagree, but that’s neither here nor there.)
When it comes down to it, writing, politics — and if we’re being honest with ourselves, nearly everything else — is about doing the work, showing up even when it’s not so easy or glamorous, and sticking with it. Imposter syndrome be damned. I’m not a writer but I wrote a book; you’re not a politician but you can run for office.
÷ ÷ ÷
is the cofounder and executive director of Run for Something, a PAC that helps recruit and support young, diverse progressives running for down-ballot office, and the author of Run for Something: A Real Talk Guide to Fixing the System Yourself
. Previously, she was the email director for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, digital director for Charlie Crist's 2014 Florida gubernatorial campaign, deputy email director for Organizing for Action, and an email writer for Barack Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign. She graduated from Northwestern University in 2012 with a B.A. in American Studies. She lives in Brooklyn with her rescue dog, Sadie. For more information, visit RunForSomething.net and follow @AmandaLitman on Twitter.