4) My Struggles with Self-Doubt as a Debut Author

In May of 2016, just after finishing my junior year of college, I found myself staring at the start of an outline for a new writing project. I could feel that the story was stewing with potential—things hadn’t clicked yet, but I was inches away from a breakthrough.

When I get in this mode, I tend to take a step back and just write a list of whatever pops into my head. That night, it looked like this:

Need a book that represents queer Christian teens. Lots of viewpoints—lots of arguing. NOT anti-religion. NEEDS TO BE ACCESSIBLE. Rapid, witty dialogue. Aaron Sorkin meets YA.

But then I added one more thought: Literally just let go and write the unpublishable book this is.

Click.

For five years of my life, I’d been querying “safe” manuscripts to put myself on the map. But what if I didn’t treat this one like that? What if I literally just wrote a book that dared to appease absolutely no one? A pro-LGBT book that was also pro-Christianity. A story with themes that belong in an English classroom but a level of profanity that could get it banned from schools. Slightly too immature for adults but slightly too mature for teens. An unpublishable book. A loud, electric book.

Deposing Nathan. My book.

I wrote the story that summer, and as long as I live, I’ll never be able to describe how it poured out of me. This was unlike anything I’d written before. I was pulling all-nighters because I was scared—legitimately scared—to go to bed and not be able to find whatever wave of inspiration was rocketing me through it. Like when you’re having a beautiful dream and praying that you don’t wake up yet. And when I’d re-read it later, I’d just shake my head, laugh to myself, and murmur under my breath.

“I…wrote this.”

I hope I’m not painting a pointless picture here. What I’m getting at is, when I experienced my book for the very first time, it just…it got me, man. It was impossible to feel like it was bad, the same way it feels impossible to be unhappy during the honeymoon phase of a relationship.

And just as I swore I wouldn’t fall in love with this one—it was the “unpublishable book,” after all—I fell head. Over. Heels.

Suppose, then, that I started querying it a few months later. Suppose I got an agent. And a publishing deal. And find me years later, in the summer of 2018, working with an editor to prepare this manuscript for publication.

After we finished editing, I’d have a chance to look it over one last time before “Submit Night”…where I’d turn in the manuscript, and the book would be officially printed out in the form of ARC’s (Advance Review Copies).

And as the editing pressed on, every ounce of that initial affection I’d had for this book–all the things I felt during those all-nighters we spent discovering each other–quietly cracked and dissolved until I had nothing left for it but overwhelming contempt.

This book was borne from me letting myself go—fantasizing about the type of story I could create. And oh, the fantasies I lived. SORKIN? English classrooms? God, what a pretentious snob I was. Sure, I was a decent writer. A good one, even. But one of the best? One of the greats? I can objectively tell you I wasn’t fit for that label then and I’m still not now.

And the thing is, that’s alright. But while I still had the manuscript in my hands, I felt it was my job to act like that wasn’t alright. I felt like as long as this manuscript could be better, I should put up an inexhaustible effort to make it better.

And these weren’t abstract, intangible concerns, either. Make no mistake—I wasn’t clutching a pillow to my chest wailing, “I don’t feel talented!” No, this was stuff like, “I hate that ending line in chapter two. Chapter 9 is painfully trope-y. God, parts of this are cringey. How do I fix it? Hell if I know.”

And to the readers who have already read early copies of Deposing Nathan—I’m asking you, respectfully but firmly, to not respond to this post by hurling comments at me like, “SHADDUP YOUR BOOK IS GOOD,” as I suspect a few of you might. This is one context where your words, and your sentiments—which I otherwise adore—have no weight. Because, holy confirmation bias, Batman. If you go to a Smash Mouth concert, you’re going to hear a deafening cheer when Steve Harwell belts out the opener to “All Star”. Doesn’t mean that song is God’s gift to music.

(It is, but that’s not my point).

Indulging people who say, “Relax…your book is good,” is a necessary step at some point. But I also felt it was my job, as the writer, to push back. I don’t think it’s good enough yet, so why does anyone else get to decide it is? I wrote this. I WROTE THIS AND I KNEW EXACTLY WHAT IT WAS SUPPOSED TO BE; but GOD, what even WAS it supposed to be, AND WHY DID I EVER, EVER THINK I COULD DO THIS???

My worry wasn’t that I was incapable of making this story good. It was that I was out of time to figure out how. And oh, if that isn’t the infinitely worse of the two. Blast me with every mean word in the world if it’s a project I earnestly stand behind. But God help me if I didn’t make it as good as I know I could’ve. God help me if one day I read a negative review, and it says, “I wish Part 1 had been structured better,” and I’m quietly left to say to myself, “I always wished it had been better, too.”

These thoughts lingered during the entire process of revising, and they were still living in my head on Submit Night as I stared at the word doc on my screen.

I’d get to tweak things one more time before pub day. After they printed out the ARC’s, I’d have the chance to correct those physical pages with a red pen, to make any truly last-minute edits. But this was the last night to make revisions on the computer. What I turned in tonight would be what critics would read.

And as I hit “submit”, there was only one thought that occupied every inch of my brain:

So many things I wish were better about you, NATHAN.

I’d love to tell you I found some magical cure to these doubts, but instead I settled for the next best thing: I emailed my agent. I let Allison know of my worries, as I always did. And the email she sent back is one that meant the world to me—so much that I printed it out and hung it up on my wall, right next to the offer of rep that I’d received almost exactly one year prior. And to this day, whenever the ugliness of Imposter Syndrome invades my brain, that wall is where I look.

ar1

ar2

Whatever happens after this book hits shelves, thank you to every person who believed in me before it did. I won’t ever forget you.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s