Validation & Writing

I wrote a book!

I don’t know if I’ve given any details or whether the project code name was made public at any point, but I wrote a novel! I know I talked about sprinting to the finish line, and I did that, it wiped me out, and I’ve been much quieter around all areas of the internet as a result, but I’ve got some energy back and wanted to talk about something I’d noticed this weekend.

First, I wrote this book in almost complete silence. People knew that I was writing something, but I didn’t talk about it much, and if I did, it was mostly to get some feedback on a world-building aspect so I could suss out any issues before everything was set to paper. I’m going to carry that habit forward for now with the exception of my beta readers, who are now in the midst of a world I created in my head, and are writing up notes to tell me what they thought of the big picture: was the pacing right? Are any of the characters flat? Did I leave a plot unresolved in a bad way? And so on.

Over the course of the last few weeks, since finishing the novel, I’ve been experiencing a lot of emotions; some of them are anxiety-based, given that I’ve handed a product of my soul out to people who may lovingly rip it apart, while others ring more like validation.

Since I was a small child, I’ve been writing. I covered this in a story about growing up and choosing my career. As a recap, though, it’s important to note that I wrote my first stories in kindergarten (about age 6 for me), wrote my first chapter book in the fourth grade (about age 10), and didn’t slow down… until the burnout hit. The last chapter-length work I finished–before this year–was 12 years ago. This wasn’t for lack of trying, I just did not have a single ounce of energy in my body for a long time. I did a NaNoWriMo event in 2017 and hit the 50,000 word mark for a story, but I never finished it. If I had to guess, it was likely going to need seven revisions and 30,000 more words to count as complete.

With every unfinished project, with every year that passed, there was a part of me that grew a little smaller, thinking that this would be the one dream I would never achieve, not really. And the doubting part of me was growing stronger, whispering that I would never finish any of my stories, never get published, never be good enough.

I wrote The End” on my manuscript and silenced that part of my brain–at least for a while. The little girl inside me who kept saying she wanted to be an author? She ran excited-screaming laps around the forest of my soul, crowing to the gods that she’d shown them. Validation. I had done it, I had finished a novel, and I thought it was pretty damn good.

This past weekend, I had another validating moment. I went to an event at one of my local indie bookstores. There were going to be authors there, signing their books, chatting with readers, and fun giveaways! One of the authors planning to sign books at the event was the writer of a book that had recently broken my out of my reading slump, so I thought it would be fun to tell her that. When I arrived, it wasn’t as crowded as I thought it might be and the two writers there at the time were free as birds. I hesitantly approached and made a decision. I pulled my copy of the slump-breaker from my bag and asked if the author might sign it to my pen name.

This sparked questions from both women–was I an author too? When I replied not yet, but I just sent my first public proof to my beta readers for my first objectively-publishable novel” they were both over the moon for me. We talked about waking up in terror because I realized the ending had gone wrong–to which they assured me that they still sometimes did that for books that are now sold in stores–about the prolific writers we all read, and finally, about my book itself. They asked me if I could pitch it to them; I had not rehearsed any of this, so I know my voice shook, but I told them the basics, gave them what series had inspired me, and my thoughts about where it could go. One squealed in excitement because she loved the idea, the other said it was wonderful because the market doesn’t have enough of my particular sub-genre and publisher’s will be looking for it soon. Again, validation.

Sure, they didn’t get the chance to read it, but they spent a good chunk of time with me, talking about the business, pen names, our favorite authors, which books suck you in and never let you go, burnout, mental health, diversity and inclusion in our writing… It was like finally understanding what people mean when they say they love their job and could talk about it all day. I could have stood there all day, asking them questions, getting to know them, discussing the gossip in the publishing industry. I did not, of course, because I wanted other readers to be able to talk to them, but we exchanged social media accounts, and I finally feel as though I can say I’m an author, even though I’m not published yet. People within the industry accepted me as one of their own. That little girl could have crowed triumph to the trees, and I would have joined her.

As the cherry on top of that, one beta reader has already finished and provided some very constructive feedback on my novel–and feedback I hadn’t been expecting! That’s excellent; it means there’s something I can improve on before I send my manuscript out to query agents and hopefully get a book deal! Even more excellent: in general, I’d have to say the review was mostly positive, and that I have at least one hooked reader. As much as compliments make me squirm in my skin–something I’m working on–they sure do have a way of making me float on air and realize that not only did I mechanically-finish a novel (getting the words written, typed, and read), I also did well enough at it for others to appreciate my work. The wild child in the forest? She climbed a tree and stared up at the stars to think about what that might mean.

The doubt will always be around, and not everything I write will be decent; I know that. But if I can write something that even one person enjoys… well I might be able to do this for real, won’t I? And it makes my heart clench in a miasma of excitement, joy, and fear. I could have my dreams, I could fulfill my goals. I’m nearly there, even if the query trenches are rough and muddy and can tear you down. I nearly did it. And I’ll be able to prove it to myself, and to anyone who told me, through actions or words, that I never could.

22 August 2022 writing mental-health creativity projects

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