I’ve been contemplating for a while what to write on the day I got published. It’s merely hours away as I’m writing this. With all the guest blogs and marketing, to be honest, I am exhausted of talking about the book (Little Girls Dream Big, available now!). Those of you who follow the site and this blog and my ever varying levels of lunacy already know about the book. You’ve already bought it and are reading it. Enough of that.
I could say a lot about the craziness and stress and fun and excitement of the last six months, but that’s the nuts and bolts of writing, the some-assembly-required part. It takes a long time to get there. I haven’t reached a destination yet, I’m not sure there actually is one. I hope not.
I’ve always had stories floating around in my head. Always. Since I possessed language. There are never any fewer than four ideas gestating in there, growing until they are viable outside the womb. During meetings at work, I often miss half of what is being said because I’m imagining what would happen if a posse of ninjas busted into the office and held us all hostage. (Is it a posse of ninjas? A gaggle? A clowder?)
Like most writers, I write constantly. Awake, if I’m not physically at my keyboard, I am writing in my head, filling in plot gaps, or envisioning wild scenarios to be used later. I dream about characters and storylines and sometimes spiders, but mostly books. It’s always been that way for me, I don’t remember a time when that wasn’t the reality inside my brain. It’s a rat’s nest in there.
But on this day, the day of my first traditionally published book, a brief dip into reality. This is the story of how it all became real.
As a kid, I’d always written short stories and vignettes, but when I was sixteen, I decided to write a book, damn it. I don’t remember the title. It was about a girl named Autumn who lived on a farm, and it maxed out at about thirty thousand words, so I guess it was more of a novella. I didn’t tell anyone I was writing it, not because I was embarrassed or actively trying to keep it a secret. I was writing it for me, that’s all that mattered. I finished the story and moved on with my life, ready to start the next fictional adventure.
About a year later, we got a new computer that could handle this revolutionary new thing called the internet, and my mom gave our old computer to my Aunt Kristi and Uncle Jamie. I had a bunch of documents saved on there– school reports, a few short stories, and that book, but nothing I cared about parting with. I don’t think I saved anything to so much as a floppy. Even then, I knew not to get too attached to my own words.
One day, my mom and I were at my aunt and uncle’s house playing cards, and Aunt Kristi said something that changed my life. I remember exactly what she said. Verbatim. I can picture the clothes we were wearing, smell the cookies baking, and feel the spring breeze wafting in through the window. That moment in time is burned into my memory. I don’t know how we got to this subject, but Kristi said, “I’ve been reading some of your stuff on that computer, Coley. You can really write. I mean, really write. I know you’re going to be a writer. I just know it.”
Until that point, it had never occurred to me that I could be a writer, that writing was something I could do for more than just shits and giggles. It took me another ten years of writing before I managed to pen anything truly publishable (though there are some who would say I still need to reach for that particular star), and there continue to be times when I totally miss the mark. My goal is to get better every day, for the best thing I write to be whatever I write next. Throughout all the rejection, it never occurred to me to stop writing. I sometimes thought about not showing what I wrote to anyone, but I had to write. I would die if I didn’t. I still feel that way.
So here we are together, the lot of us, not at the end of the journey, but certainly at the start of a new chapter. I wanted to tell you this story to illustrate that you never know how what might seem like small words of encouragement can truly and permanently change a person’s life. I also want so many of you to know that the thousands of words of encouragement I’ve received over the years since that day at Aunt Kristi’s house have not gone unheard or unappreciated.
You write because you have to, but you keep trying to make it into a career because the people who love you believe in you. They believe in you when you don’t believe in yourself. They believe in you so intensely and so vocally that it drowns out the negativity and the flood of voices saying you’re not good enough and never will be. There’d be no way to keep going if that weren’t the case, the pain and disappointment would be too overwhelming. I certainly wouldn’t be able to keep putting myself out there if I didn’t have a safety net of friends and family who will be proud of me regardless of whether I sell one book or a billion. Writing is the easy part.
I love to write. I love to write more than I love sleep, free time, and fulfilling relationships. I’m very happy that I get to share that joyful dysfunction with all of you. Thanks for coming on this journey with me. I can’t wait to find out what’s next. For all of us.