In October, my very first short story will be published in the Of Fae and Fate Anthology. I think I’m still floored. In fact, an old friend introduced me as an author the other day and my knee jerk reaction was “Me? No, no that’s not true. I’m just a writer.”
Just a writer.
Or am I really an Author now?
It’s funny because I totally bought into the idea that you’re a writer until you sign that contract, then you’re an Author. With a capital A. But now I’m here and I can’t help but wonder, is it different if you just publish a short story? Should you actually cash a check before you call yourself a "capital A" Author? What does it mean if I am an Author now? how am I supposed to act? And why do I keep referring to what I do in the terms of “just___”. Just a Mom. Just a Writer. Just an Author?
As you can see, I have a lot of learning to do, and some of it requires answers you can only get from digging deep down inside. So, let’s chat about how to decide what a title should mean, professionalism, and the relationships you make and keep along the way.
To Be An Author or Not To Be?
I’m realizing that I hid behind the “I’m a writer” idea because it lent me some grace. It was okay if I didn’t live up to people’s expectations- they didn’t have any of me anyways. Grace to not have to write every day. Grace to not feel stuck in one trajectory. As I get closer to Enda’s launch date, I’m going to have to start coming to terms with how those things have changed (or not) and probably find grace within those new expectations.
That means I need to decide: If I’m published, but it’s not a full book, does that still count? If I am an author, is there any sense of responsibility that goes with that title? What is expected of me now?
There’s a good reason for the discrepancy behind who gets the title and who doesn’t, in my humble opinion. If a title isn’t earned then it loses its meaning. And if someone isn’t willing to work for a title before they own it then I think they have to ask themselves why they want it so selfishly? By all logical accounts, I have earned the title. I wrote and edited a story from beginning to end so that it included satisfying character growth and logical plot arcs. I studied up queries and sent off a heartfelt one that was accepted. And I went through the editing processes with a professional editor to make the story as good as I could possibly make it. And in October it will be read by people who don’t even know me, in real life. It shouldn’t matter how many words the story is… right?
They say that the more you grow in this industry, the more you inferior you feel, and I think that plays a lot into my headspace now. As I meet and talk with published authors I realize that there is so much that goes on after publication date. Book tours and signings, speaking positions at conferences, and figuring out social media for promotion’s sake, and Facebook ads. The list goes on for days. So I wonder, do I even want to call myself an Author? Am I capable of the time management and the dedication it takes just to have a story published? Do I want to continue writing, only to compound this need? Or should I just be happy with the one story, step away now and call it good?
Have you ever heard fear speak so loudly?
What I’m doing about it.
I can, at the very least, recognize that a lot of these swirling thoughts are fear based. That is okay! Did you know that new situations are instinctually scary because our body is hardwired to keep us safe? (The book The Happiness Hypothesis taught me that). So, while fear is not a “bad” reaction, it is a telling one. And if we can read the emotion for what it is we can address the fear, set it aside like a purring kitten and get to some real conclusions. So here is what I’m working on to accomplish just that:
I’ve been spending time on Twitter looking at how authors I admire speak about themselves, the kinds of interactions are they having. Though no one would claim to be an expert at being human, I think there is a lot of value in emulating characteristics of those who are where we would like to be. The authors I like to follow, are kind and supportive. They have genuine thoughts and share them confidently. Knowing that these are the things I value, answers the question of what kind of person/ author I want to be. And it’s a good time for an honest assessment of what I need to do to cultivate these characteristics, and what I am already doing!
A lot of those spiraling thoughts are centered in the fear of not being good enough, or qualified enough, so I am keeping a running list of 50 Things I’m Good At. I don’t have a therapist, but I imagine if I did they’d be proud of me for doing these things… is that weird? Every time I think of something I am truly good at, I write it down. This exercise is good for everyday confidence. In the past, I would write things down like, “I work really hard to make sure my kids have some kind of veggie on their plate for every meal”. But, due to the specificity of my fears, I’m trying to focus on writing-related things right now. To have the list written down and accessible in times of highs and lows helps build confidence and fight off imposter syndrome. When the spiraling thoughts get particularly nasty, it helps me to look back and do a self-check and prove that I’m not as ill-qualified as I might think.
And no more of this “I am Just a Writer” crap. The words you use about yourself are powerful. My husband would say it’s “lying to yourself- the only lying that is acceptable.”
If you tell yourself you’re no good at something, the way you act, react and achieve your goals will reflect that self-belief regardless of how true it is. The same is true vice-versa. But wouldn’t that cultivate a false sense of confidence in something you truly aren’t good at, you ask? Telling yourself you are good at a thing, even if you are not in that moment, will put you in the mindset to become good at that thing, and the confidence will give you resilience against the obstacles that stand in the way of achieving it. That is why it’s the only lying that is acceptable- the benefits will always outweigh the cost, so stand in front of the mirror every morning and say, “I am a great Author. I am a great Mother. I am a great Woman.”
If you are in the same boat as me, and you want even more exercises, I’ve also started going down this list of suggestions I found on Make a Living Writing.
How personal do I get with my editor?
Beth Buck, acquisitions editor for Immortal Works, a rockstar of a mom, and a fellow Author heads the Of Fea and Fate Anthology, so when I queried my story she was the one I sent it to. I studied up on the exact right way to write a query letter. Wrote so many drafts, and then pestered friends to look over it until there was no more time to wait- I had to send it. They say that the query is almost harder than writing the story itself, and I absolutely agree. But there is nothing more nerve-wracking than the time between when the letter was sent, and when you finally (hopefully) get a response. Though sometimes I still think it might be a dream, the acceptance email came. I responded to it as professionally as I could without saying, “thank you, thank you, thank you,” a weird amount of times. But here’s what I feel like no one ever talks about: how should correspondence go after that? We’re on the final round of editing, and I can’t seem to figure out if my communications with Beth Buck should sound professional or personal, or somewhere in between. Should I call her Beth? Mrs. Buck? Lady Beth Buck Editor Extraordinaire?? Is it inappropriate to crack jokes? How many times is acceptable to say thank you in one email?
What I’m doing about it?
Communication, communication, communication
This is where I am insanely grateful to be a part of so many positive and friendly writing communities. Between the #writingcommunity on Twitter and LDS Beta Readers and Storymakers Tribe on Facebook, and my own lovely writing group, I have a hive of minds to pick from, and even the random questions about the relationship do’s and don’ts between writers and editors. So, when I have a question about story making or about professionalism, I'm working on not being afraid to ask. There might not be any articles on the subject, but there are people eager and willing to share their own experiences. When I brought up that I was unsure about how formal to be with the person editing my story, I was surprised to find a lot of other people felt that way at one point, too and had some good insight for me. I'm so grateful for the things I've learned and all the people, strangers and otherwise who have happily shared their knowledge with me.
My short story Enda, about a wee boy who's grieving his grandmother's death and goes on an epic adventure of fantastic proportion, is near and dear to my heart and I will always be so grateful that it was given the chance to be part of the Of Fae and Fate Anthology. All these things I'm learning, all the thing left to learn, are part of the wonderful package. As we stretch ourselves and do those things that scare us, I hope we all find the joy on the other side. Good luck with your own writing, querying and publishing endeavors, and share the journey with us: what things are you learning right now?
We're all writers, we're all moms, writing our way through the "brambles" of life and our stories.