I’ve blogged a lot about self-publishing, about how to know if it’s right for you, about how to keep your expectations in check, about how to make sure you’re absolutely ready to go indie. Because it’s tough out there. My first year as a self-published author has come and gone and the truth is I don’t have much to show for it except a bunch of real-life examples of what not to do and an insatiable, although some would say insane, desire to share those with all of you. So I shall. From beginning to end, every wrong turn and accidental success, every embarrassment and every dream come true. Because even though I’m not rich and famous that’s still exactly what happened. My dream of becoming an author came true and if that’s not a story worth telling then I don’t know what is.
The Indie Experiment:The Beginning
I wrote my first novel when I was in middle school and it was called “Screwed”, no sexual innuendo intended (Come on, I was twelve). I remember spending half an hour just picking out the right font–probably something swirly, probably something lime green. It was about a middle school, of course, and the main character just could not catch a break. I seem to recall something about a swirly and her losing her retainer in the cafeteria garbage. I spent all afternoon typing it up and at the end I was so proud that I did something that I’ve been reluctant to do since. I asked someone to read it. It was my mother. I think she’d been vacuuming and her clothes smelled like pine-sol, something I noticed because I was hovering over her shoulder as she read. I don’t remember what she said afterward. Something good, I’m sure. Something encouraging. Even though it was terrible. The next day I deleted it.
Eighth grade I thought I’d try my hand at poetry. Well, more like I was forced by my English teacher. I think I was just relieved that we were finally going to take a break from grammar. I hated grammar. But luckily for me the school was having some kind of contest and everyone was asked to participate, the best poems from each grade being printed and bound in a collection that our parents could then purchase, because you know, schools don’t sell enough useless shit in the name of school spirit. I wrote two poems about dying and one about patriotism (that last one was required) and miraculously they were chosen to be included in the anthology. I thought I was the shit. Until we got back to learning grammar.
I wrote sporadically, usually just when it was required for class, but fast forward to my senior year of high school (because I really don’t remember much in between) and that’s when I really started to get the “itch”. No, not that “itch.” The writing “itch.” I can’t really pinpoint the first story or the first moment when I started thinking about writing again but we were getting assigned to read a lot more contemporary fiction and I really loved my teacher and I guess I was just thinking about my future a lot more and what I really wanted to do with it. My high school years had been mostly devoted to volunteering with the National Honor Society and I’d even gotten a scholarship for having the most community service hours. I was getting ready to apply for an internship at a local non-profit, expecting to work in some field where I could go to work every day and try to save the world. But then something happened. It crept up on me, I guess, and I’m not sure what to call it except the truth. Of who I was and who I wanted to be. And I wanted to be a writer.
I’d always loved to read more than anything. More than playing sports, more than socializing, more than…math. Okay I love everything more than math I just couldn’t think of another example that wasn’t already summed up by everything. But you get the picture. Reading is definitely to blame for my current affliction and I remember having an especially revelatory moment during my senior year while reading The Kite Runner. The book literally took my breath away. It was perfect in every way, in every way that I wanted to write and think and be. I wanted to write stories like that. Sweeping emotional stories about family and culture and love. And then, in the midst of me grappling with the decision between pursuing writing and social work I got an idea. It started with just two people, a boy and a girl, and that was all it took.
The Things They Didn’t Bury changed so drastically from those first scribbled notes I made when I was seventeen. It changed countries and even changed wars. But what remained the same was the love story and now whenever I get an idea for a story that’s always what comes to me first–the people, that central relationship around which everything else in the story orbits.
I spent a lot of my senior year in the library doing research and taking notes. But even though I’d always been a good English student and had always gotten good grades on everything I’d ever written, I still wasn’t sure that I could write a book. Sometimes, even after writing five, I’m still not sure. But so began my volatile relationship with self-doubt. It also didn’t help that during my last semester of high school they finally decided to add a Creative Writing class to the schedule, except it was “invitation only” and I wasn’t invited. I was secretly devastated. And secretly I still am. But I like to look at it as my first real moment of defiance. Because who cared if I wasn’t invited into their stupid little writing class? I was still going to write and more importantly I wasn’t going to stop. Not then. Not ever. And once I had that realization, that not writing was not an option for me, the decision was easy. So easy that I waited until the day of the deadline to turn in my declaration as an English major. And even though I’m sort of living proof at the moment (although I partly blame this damn recession) that what people say about majoring in the arts is true, I also wouldn’t change a thing. Not one second. Not one day. Not one word. Because when I’m off the clock and not busy making someone else money, that time is all mine, and without everything I’ve learned there’s no way I’d be able to spend it becoming the person I’ve always wanted to be.