Before I decided to write my first novel, I never thought average people from average places doing average things could write a WHOLE BOOK. I thought that was reserved for–oh, I don’t know–people who were smarter, more interesting, older, wealthier, less female, more educated, whiter… the list goes on.
So despite always writing, I spent a lot of time not sharing my work, even in my college years, because I just didn’t think it was the kind of thing people like me from places like I came from could do. Back then, writing was my form of therapy, a way to express myself. I had like six blogs that I never shared with ANYONE. I didn’t even read other people’s work back then. I know… bad. But I just didn’t understand why I would need to. My goal at the time wasn’t to become a published writer. I didn’t have a goal at all. I just liked to write.
It was when I started meeting authors that I was like oh, you’re just a person who likes to be alone and write down their thoughts, too. Maybe I could be like you. And actually, your stuff is great. I want to be like you. And then, there was that time when my mom said, Can you imagine being an author? Can you imagine how hard that must be? Isn’t it amazing that they can write down a whole story and make you feel like you’re right there? Like I said, back then I didn’t ever think I’d write a novel, but as soon as she said it, something took root in my heart. Like, oh yeah, Mom? You think that’s amazing? Well, watch this. Watch this!
If you’re thinking of writing a book, what I can promise you is that you really don’t know if writing a book is for you until you write the whole thing. Seriously! I never knew I liked reading my work aloud in front of people until I did it. I never knew that being in a writing group and revising a manuscript with a bunch of trusted friends could be so life-affirming. I didn’t think that this process could bring me so much joy and I sure as hell didn’t think that anyone would ever want to publish a book-length manuscript I wrote. I still don’t know how that happened–when I wrote my first draft, I didn’t even know what a narrative arc was. Sometimes it still feels like I’ve tricked everyone. Hey, watch this!
I know a lot of us grew up thinking that publishing a book is reserved for a special class of people and that class of people isn’t us. It’s hard for anyone to get their footing in an industry notorious for its rates of rejection, but it’s even harder when you’ve convinced yourself that rejection is warranted. When I used to say, who am I to think I could publish a book, was I saying that nobody in my family could do that? Was I saying that people like me don’t write books? In every other aspect of my life, I believed in social justice, in the idea that we all deserve the same opportunities and freedoms and if given the right resources, we’re all capable of the same things. So why was this any different?
The truth is that anyone can get published. Anyone who actively avoids their boyfriend and parents and kids and friends so they can write some stuff down in a journal is halfway there (the other half is less guilt-inducing: reading constantly, enrolling in writing courses, learning basic rules of fiction, finding a writing group, querying endlessly.)
People say the world needs your book, but maybe YOU need your book most. In some ways, I haven’t changed from that person writing endlessly in Xangas and Tumblrs and WordPresses–I still write for myself, to unearth my truth. There’s only now a subtle difference, and it’s that I can imagine myself being an author, too, and if I can reader, so can you.