My first book didn’t start when I wrote the first word. It didn’t even start when I first thought of the idea, tapping away at my pen after I had finished a microeconomics exam on negative externalities.
My first book is borne of the effects of a certain community apon my personality, that being the rationality community.
The rationality community is closely related to the Effective Altruism community, a collection of people who aim to do the most good through evidence and researched backed methadology.
That October, I had received funding to attend a conference, EA Global London 2021, and was having an interesting conversation. My interlocutor was trying to convince about the value of embracing rejections, and about how things are so much less scary than our brains make them seem.
Now of course this rhetoric wasn’t new to me — people telling you to embrace rejection are everywhere. And yet, there was something different about the way I was being told it that time specifically. Perhaps it was becuase I trusted this person I had met two days ago so very deeply, perhaps it was because I had been a hairs flinch away from not attending that conference at all out of fear of rejection. Either way, I took his words incredibly seriously.
I received a scholarship to attend Wellington College from September 2022, so was one of the few state school students. I was new among hundreds of preexisting relationships and friendships, little of which I understood, their dynamics so far from what I was used to in East London. But I heard one of them, Bella, was having a party.
My first book didn’t start when I wrote the first word. My first book started when I saw Bella down the hallway. I felt my body lock up, as though it was casing over in ice as I stood there. It wasn’t just my presence in that school that felt unnatural then, it was everything. Every footstep, evvery twitch of every muscle. Was I doing something wrong? Could I be doing something wrong?
My brain did indeed ask these questions. It wasn’t like I didn’t consider it. But I wasn’t used to the idea of giving my mammallian brain any respect, of assuming it knew more than I as James’ words echoed in my brain: “Embrace rejection. Embrace rejection…”
My first book didn’t start when I wrote the first word. My first book started as I felt my heart throbbing in my throat, embracing rejection as I had been so wisely told to do to. As I choked out the request to attend her party, and watched as she processed what on earth was going on.
”Sure..” she finally managed to say. “I just need to check with my parents about the numbers.”
I smiled, and so did she, and she walked down the corridor.
This moment defined my first book, but you wouldn’t guess that from the title. Quote Mania, on the surface, is a story about quotes. About the joy of a line of dialogue that has been optimised for many months to capture a uniquely delicate shade of emotion perfectly, being ready in your arsenal to deploy and be able to express yourself with such granularity also. It’s a story about a boy who enjoys repeating things he’s heard from TV so deeply it’s to a fault. A boy who’s certain that if people really were annoyed, they’d just tell him…
My first book is indeed a love letter to quoting, a love that started during the recesses of lockdown in 2021, where my mind would repeat “I’m alone. I’m all alone” endlessly to the tune of Big Mouth, from a scene where the main character truly is the only human left alive in the entire cosmos. Quoting for me is largely unintentional, with my brain apparently acting as a large library of all the spoken dialogue I have ever heard in TV, autocompleting the end of people’s statements with lines from TV all the time throughout the day.
And Quote Mania wasn’t my first attempt at analysing and understanding this practice that so few people seem to experience and talk about. I first wrote Quote Therapy on my blog in August of 2021, a post where I sincerely, though almost comically, describe how the practice feels to me from the inside and how finding quotes that match what I’m feeling have helped me come to terms with some of my most intense emotions over the last year and a half — all from the frame of a doctor who is prescribing this treatment to someone else.
The next development was when it was time to create a podcast during DukeBox, an elective I took during Lower Sixth. Believing being able to hear the quotes scattered throughout the blog post would work well in the audio format, I decided to convert Quote Therapy to a podcast, the result of which earned me a nomination in the BBC Young Audio Awards in the rising talent category.
And yet, there was something missing in all the attempts I had made to understand the quoting in the past. Over the next few months, I began to think more and more about the downsides of the practice, recalling long buried memories of me repeating quotes from frozen endlessly during maths class, driving those around me crazy.
My first book is indeed a love letter to quoting, a gap in media that I am so happy to have contributed to filling. But it is also so much about consideration, about thoughtfulness.
My first book started when I realised that Bella was as profoundly scared as I was. When I realised the difference between rhetoric that existed to serve you and to serve others. When I realised there was such a thing as your brain knowing this, knowing everything, of the possibility of emotions like fear and embarrassment existing becuase they save the other person of the immense pain of rejecting outright, of saying “No, Space, I’m sorry, but I don’t really want you at my party.”My first book didn’t really start with asking
My first book didn’t really start when I asked Bella the Wellingtonian to attend her party, because that wasn’t the first time I annoyed someone. That wasn’t the first time when I had railroaded another’s preferences, not even considering the pain of being the person doing the rejecting and the great kindness that can come.
If there’s one thing my deep dives into the art form that is writing, I have at least learned that stories are about arcs. So this is the arc I gave my protagonist, when I wrote my first book.
He starts off self-centered. Incredibly far from malicious, but just sufficiently inconsiderate to the burden he inflicts on others to tell them they dislike his behaviour to indefinately drive them crazy.
My first book didn’t end with the last letter. Not really. It ends with my protagonist Heye, seeing Jacob down the hallway, the person he drove crazy the most. Heye’s heart throbs, splashes, pounds and cartwheels within his chest.
He knows what he has to do.
”Jacob!” he says, every inch of him cartwheeling beneath his skin.
”I’m sorry. For being… so annoying.”
Badass first draft imo, I think this is toight.
My first book didn’t end with the last letter. It ends with Heye, my beloved protagonist, seeing Jacob down the hallway. His heart throbs, splashes, pounds within his throat, as he knows what he has to do.
”Jacob!” he says, every inch of him cartwheeling beneath his skin.
”I’m sorry. For being so annoying.”
A while later, I had been journalling alone in my dorm when someone walked in, and asked me what I was doing. I explained I was trying to think about how to get better at rejection, and how it had been so scary for me to do such an obviously good thing. And they explained to me that…
That you’re not supposed to ask people to go to their parties.
And as I processed his words, I realised how terribly hard it had been for her to reject me.
My first book started when I realised that Bella was as profoundly scared as I was. When I realised the difference between rhetoric that existed to serve you and to serve others. When I realised there was such a thing as your brain knowing this, knowing everything, of the possibility of emotions like fear and embarrassment existing becuase they save the other person of the immense pain of rejecting outright, of saying “No, Space, I’m sorry, but I don’t really want you at my party.”
My first book didn’t really start when I asked Bella the Wellingtonian to attend her party, because that wasn’t the first time I annoyed someone. That wasn’t the first time when I had railroaded another’s preferences, not even considering the pain of being the person doing the rejecting and the great kindness that can come
“You assumed that people telling you that they didn’t like the thing that you did was an easy action for them, so you dismissed the need to anticipate their feelings and change your actions accordingly to spare them of that burden.”