I recently had a couple of good friends describe me as “really upbeat and optimistic.” Which is awesome and all, but I couldn’t help myself from thinking… Really?
I try my best to be a cheerful person—it’s something my parents emphasized the heck out of when I was growing up, grumpiness being a crime leagues beyond too much screen time or not eating my vegetables—but cheer is not a natural, effortless state. I make a concerted effort to project happiness, even when I’m not necessarily feeling it. Sometimes, that’s great. It can make the people around me feel better, and it can make me feel better, too.
But other times—and this is something I’m only recently coming to terms with—I use this “upbeat and optimistic” attitude to build a wall between me and the people around me. To keep people from seeing me sad or angry. To keep people from seeing anything other than what I want them to see.
For most of my life, I used all the same walls to protect my writing, too.
I wrote my first book when I was thirteen, and only my dad read it. (Side note: I have since given it to a friend to read and make fun of with me, because #growth. Hi, Kevin!)
Then I wrote my second book, and I didn’t show it to anyone. Then I wrote my third book… and I didn’t show that to anyone, either.
And on it went, writing and hiding and pretending that if no one saw anything I wrote, it was safe, and I was safe, and there was nothing to worry about.
Want to know how not to become a better writer? ^That.
Writing, in its very nature, forces you to be vulnerable. It forces you to spill all your thoughts and feelings onto paper and make them permanent, recognizable, real. And one of the great conflicts of my life has been that 1) I love nothing more than writing, but 2) I hate nothing more than my own vulnerability.
So posting this (and linking it to my Facebook wall like a crazy person) is a slightly physically painful task.
But it’s also a sign that I am, and please excuse the Disney Channel-ness of this moment, growing.
Since I was a little kid, I’ve had a visceral reaction to people seeing me fail. Failures are just not something I’m willing to share. So the first time I queried an agent, two years ago with a hugely under-prepared manuscript, I didn’t really tell people. I was doing something big, huge, consuming an enormous chunk of my emotional and mental energy, and I didn’t want anyone to know.
Because I didn’t want them to know when it didn’t work out.
And it didn’t.
The next time I queried agents, I was a little more vocal. I talked to my parents more about it, at any rate. My roommates knew, because I was on my laptop writing emails all the time. But I still wasn’t about to broadcast anything. Again, a relief—
When it didn’t work out.
And then, at the beginning of this school year, I started querying again. And I also started telling my friends.
And explaining the process.
And trying to express how stressful all this was, while still sort of trying to maintain the facade that I was fine, that everything was fine, that I was pretty sure things would work out…
But then, they did. And I signed with an agent. And I realized something pretty amazing about vulnerability.
Since my friends and family knew that I was struggling through this process—that it was something not guaranteed to work out in my favor—it made the victory that much more complete. It meant that they could celebrate with me (and buy me rosé! Hi, Chris!). And it meant, had things not worked out, they could have been there for me through that, too.
No one’s life is a stream of successes. No one wins every time. By the same token, no one is happy all the time. But by hiding all the failures, all the moments of sadness and anger and hardship, you don’t give anyone the chance to really see who you are, at the high points and the low ones.
So that’s why I’m here. Loudly announcing to my friends, family, and acquaintances who somehow ended up on this website, that I want to be a YA author, and I have a literary agent, and I’m trying to get a book deal. Any maybe I’ll get one. And maybe I won’t. But I think the journey is gonna be a lot more fun if you come on it with me.