When I was wee, I was told that this was a story:
You struggle toward a goal, and it’s hard, but then you make it. And boy, it’s exciting! Then you lounge peacefully in the realm of Happily Ever After. I absorbed this shape. And not just because I write. I think most of us who grow up hearing stories that take this basic shape (which is to say, most Western stories) have internalized that this is what a story looks like. This is what we want our successes to look like.
And this troubles me.
For most of my conscious life, my dream was to publish a book with a major publishing house.
If you are on this website, you probably already know that this is a thing currently happening. My first book launches on June 8. Go, you know, buy it and stuff.
But the weird thing that non-publishing people don’t usually know is that there aren’t very many days in the publishing process that feel victorious. The day you sell is awesome, except you can’t go public with the news until later. The day you announce your sale is great, except people still can’t order the book or see the cover, so it doesn’t seem quite real. The day you get the cover is epic, but you can’t announce that yet, either. And so on. And then there’s release day, which definitely should feel victorious, except for the fact that it’s started to loom over you, responsible for bearing all this weight of success and victory you’ve put on it.
And achieving a goal is weird.
I felt the same way when I got into college. I’d been obsessed with SAT scores and essays for years, and it was finally done. Suddenly, I had empty time on my hands and energy I didn’t know how to spend. I spent it worrying. Existentially!
Launching a book feels much the same. And I see three different ways it can go:
You reach your climax, your summit, your pinnacle, and it feels anticlimactic. People don’t care. Strangers on the road don’t start singing to you. Life basically goes on. And it feels like you made a false promise to yourself. You thought this would be a climax, the climax, and it wasn’t. So, you tell yourself, you just haven’t reached the real climax yet. It’s up ahead somewhere. You’ll get it when you sell a bunch of books or win an award. Or get a TV show. Or a theme park!
Your goal keeps moving, and so do you. Until you collapse from fatigue.
So you’ve reached an exciting moment. You’ve achieved a dream. This probably means that you’re about to die.
I really wish I was kidding about this.
I don’t mean that I started wishing I were dead. I mean that I started wondering if I was about to get smited by one of Zeus’s lightning bolts. Because I’d done the thing, right? My whole life, I’d been saying I wanted to publish a book. Well, here it was. Book. Life goal—achieved. Life—over?
Once I managed to convince myself I wasn’t actually going to die, I tried to help myself move toward option 3:
It is with a heavy heart that I must conclude the plot chart from the beginning is a big fat lie, and also not very good life advice. I wonder how many of us feel a sense of anticlimax when we want to be celebrating. I wonder how a professional athlete grapples with the decision to quit at the top of their game so they need never start losing. I wonder why we leave relationships when they stabilize.
I wish I were better at seeing life like a series of hills instead of a singular mountain. Or like waves on the horizon, cresting and constant. But I’m trying. Even now, I catch myself thinking that revising my philosophy is my next mountain. Which, of course, it’s not. It’s just a thing. A bump, an effort. One of many.
People keep asking if I’m excited about my book launch. And I am. I don’t want this to sound like a lack of excitement—or worse, like disappointment. But actually, my prevailing emotion right now is calm.
This book is new to the rest of the world, but it’s old to me. It’s private and it’s personal and it’s filled with all sorts of things I love—oceans and fables and girls who see each other for who they are. I love this book, and I hope you love it too.
But I also love the next book. And the other thing I’m writing. And the new seedling idea I’ve started doodling. And I love the books I’ve been reading, and all the things I do outside of books, too, like running to loud Disney music.
In Australia, where I’ve been for much of the pandemic, they talk about something called “tall poppy syndrome.” The idea is that the tallest poppies are the ones to get cut. The people who do cool things publicly get criticized for being boastful. With that in mind, I’m wary of sounding, you know, arrogant and awful. But I also know that I spent an inordinate amount of time reading posts like these, from debuting authors, when I was still dreaming of signing with a literary agent. So I hope this reads as both celebratory and reassuring.
Celebratory: I have a book coming out! No way! Go buy it!
Reassuring: It’s a weird feeling, but life is weird. Let’s roll with it.