Thanks so much, Sia, for giving me a chance to blog with you. I’m especially happy to be here because sometimes I still feel like it’s impossible that I am here.
Last month, I attended the Romance Writers of America national conference in Washington DC. Although I’ve been to writers’ conferences before, this was my first time as a published author. I was so excited to be going since I got to wear a First Sale ribbon, which I’d longingly admired on new authors over the many, many years of my writing apprenticeship. I donned the name badge with eager pride. The ribbon—shiny and pink—fluttered at the bottom like a challenge to a very small, somewhat effeminate bull.
Bull, as in bullsh!t.
The Bull of BS has long been my nemesis. I picture it like the red bull from Peter S. Beagle’s THE LAST UNICORN. The Bull rears its pointy-horned head whenever I clamber over the fence that divides me from my dreams, when I take a few steps outside my comfort zone, when I start to think maybe—finally—I know where I’m going, and maybe—finally—I have the right to be there. The Bull of BS has an unerring eye for uncertainty, scents fraudulence on the breeze at one part per billion, and eats eager pride for breakfast.
And the Bull of BS had me in its crosshairs.
I’m not ashamed to say I ran. (Okay, I’m a little ashamed, but eager pride goeth before a poking in the backside by the Bull of BS.) I ran back to the bar, back to the safety of my writing friends because I knew they’d understand.
Fellow paranormal romance author Annette McCleave whose first book DRAWN IN DARKNESS comes out in September, drank a spiked hot chocolate with me and captured the sentiment best: "I'd been unpublished a long time. I was good at it. Now [after selling a book] I feel like I fell off a cliff. I'm starting over." She included a dramatic hand gesture, which mimed a Wyle E. Coyote-style 90-degree plummet over a precipice.
Selling a book doesn’t make you a master; it makes you the apprentice, back at the bottom again.
During the conference, fellow writers congratulated me on the first sale, and inevitably they added, “You must be so excited!” Hmm, let me check... Elevated heart rate, dilated pupils, breathlessness, sleeplessness... That’s either excitement, or terror!
Maybe both as I hop the fence into the field of dreams, into the fray of being a debut novelist. From my first big outing as a published author, I learned a few things that maybe someday will boost me from apprentice (again) to journeyman:
- There’s always something more to learn, and in the learning comes confidence. Going to workshops and talking to other writers—and this time, talking to my editor and agent—I realized I have indeed learned a few things since the days when I accidentally told parts of my story from the dog’s point of view. That’s progress equivalent, for example, to an apprentice blacksmith not nailing his pants to a horse’s hoof. Yay me! Except there’s always something more to learn so I imagine I’ll never quite get to the end no matter how many times I get to The End.
- It’s not as serious as I thought. Seriously. I can’t play the wise and thoughtful writer. Not even on TV. Nobody’d believe it, what with the Bull of BS drooling over my shoulder. Taking my writing seriously but not myself so much has eased some of the pressure. This flies in the face of confidence-building how-to articles that tell you to fake it ‘til you make it, but every time I admit to someone that I secretly suspect I am making this all up, they completely understand. And most feel the same! Turns out, there are a lot of us sneaking along the Bull’s fence, wanting to take the risk. Turns out, a lot of us have jumped the fence only to slip in a cowpie. Talk about instant friendships...
- I might have to hear it, but I don’t have to listen to the voice of doubt. This seems simple and obvious, I know, but with the Bull looming right there it’s really hard to meditate on those positive affirmations. Usually the best I can do is pretend, but that counts for a lot because I’m a fiction writer, and we make things up all the time.
Of course, I’m excited to finally have a story I can share with others. I’m also happy, grateful and determined. And terrified. Selling a book didn’t make me a faster writer (sadly), or more self-assured or less introverted. I didn’t suddenly become the brave and graceful toreador, meeting the Bull’s charge with my crimson cape flying. Nope, I only have a pink ribbon. And that’ll have to be enough.
Well, that and a cup of spiked hot chocolate and writing friends.
Has there ever been a time when you thought everybody could see right through your façade? How did you deal? Afterward, did the experience give you more confidence to pursue your dreams?
Jessa Slade has always adored doggerel verse, overwrought imagery and hyper-extended metaphors. She tries desperately (and often hopelessly) to rein in these dangerous impulses.On the plus side, she only rarely writes about herself in the third person.She lives in Portland, Oregon, with a musician who feeds her, a shelter dog who walks her, and a pair of nocturnal geckos that keep her company during the wee writing hours.
You can visit Jessa: http://demonrepent.com/