When Your First Book Is Going Into Submissions

It was the fall of 2010 when I sat down in my guidance counselor’s office with motivational posters lined along the walls. Still somewhat of a square, I wanted the meeting between me, my guidance counselor, and my mother to go well. The purpose of the meeting?

“So what do you want to major in?” asked my guidance counselor, referring to me beginning of the college application process.

I breathed only for a moment and answered clearly, “Writing. I want to study Creative Writing.”’

My guidance counselor and my mother froze, then looked between each other. My guidance counselor sighed, “Honey, I know that’s something you like to do, but at this school, we want to prepare to graduate and study and get jobs.”

My mother started to talk. Then the guidance. They listed all the reasons that certain majors had to struggle. They argued about the student loans that most low-income students had and how an English degree wasn’t worth the investment. As they talked and talked, my entire past swirled around me. All the times I’d read books and adults praised me for being “curious”, being yelled at in class by teachers for hiding a novel behind a textbook, my mother carting me off to Kenyon Young Writer’s Workshop when I was 15, and how no one in my family, other than my peers, had ever even read a word of my writing.

“Then what was the point of me going to a two-week workshop? It didn’t matter that I cared about it?”

Now it was my turn to look between them. They gave no answer. So I held my ground.

“So you’re not paying for my school and you want to tell me what to study?” I eventually retorted.

I write this piece on the other side of a dream. The dream that made me read books for hours after school, begging my mother to take my thrift stores in Cleveland to hunt down Goosebump books (which were no longer in print at the time) that turned a seventh-grade writing assignment into a love that would follow me 14 years later. This dream is why it is important for me to write about this moment in my life, and more specifically my writing life. My first book goes on submissions next week; which means that my literary agent will start the process of pitching it to publishing houses.

To even say these words means that I have reached a precipice that so many. writers desire, and I am preparing to jump off, to dive further into this dream. But even that fact is secondary to the craft and the actual work. Things that people didn’t see like…. spending hours alone in front of a blank laptop, traveling to France to find some seed of inspiration, going through an existential breakdown, and becoming the person that could write the book that I wanted to write.

This is why I will stop for a moment and share some lessons that have shaped and solidified my passion for writing over the last decade and a half.

How to keep the writing fire going and accomplish your dream

Be bold in your entrance into your passion. Dive in and try not to look back.

This is necessary writing advice for people who feel compelled to write but have trouble getting past the phase of sitting and staring at the word processor or can’t write past the stories’ beginning. When I was a middle schooler and teenager, I wrote often. I wrote for pleasure and not for publication. I wrote about zombies, slashers at high school dances, and car crashes.

As a straight-edge teenager, writing became the way that I could live out other experiences and worlds. This meant that by the age of 20, I had already written roughly two dozen short stories, notebooks of poetry, and six novels. All of those works, even the ones that I cringe at today, taught me about craft.

People will doubt you, especially if you don’t find a way to believe in yourself.

I think back to that conversation in my guidance counselor’s office. I was 16 at the time and preparing to go to college at 17. I was young, but also eager to become an adult, to come out, and experience all the things that young adults should. But what would have happened if I’d entered that conversation unsure of my love for writing and was pressured so heavily by these two adults?

The honest answer is that I maybe would’ve still studied English. I would’ve maybe continued writing when I could and afterward, lose the spark by the time I earned my Bachelor’s Degree. Or there’s the possibility that my love for writing could have developed in ways that going to a PWI (predominantly white institution) stifled.

This particular lesson isn’t meant to shame anyone who is insecure about wanting to write, study writing, or call themselves a writer. It’s instead a reassertion that our desires matter, so defending in a world build on capitalist ideals of productivity will be essential.

Take time out of your life for things that you want to do.

This is a lesson I’m rediscovering at my current artist residency at The Studios of Key West. In the two weeks that I’ve been here, I’ve had more alone time as an artist in a place unfamiliar to me than I’ve ever had in my life. In the evenings, I find myself pacing around my room, singing to myself, butchering piano keys, editing videos for the first time in a while, and allow myself to create art messily.

This time and space is a product of all my freelancing work, of developing a good writer’s website, of organizing residency and fellowship applications, applying to things on a regular basis, and doing the behind the scenes work to cultivate writing, which is something that I care about deeply. This lesson translated also means, Invest in yourself and you will see the fruits of your labor.

Now that you have heard my hard-earned lessons from over the years, I have a few requests for you (call it homework!):

  1. If you have a project that you’re stalled on, committed to a small writing goal every day. If it’s a novel, try to write 2-3 pages a day. If it’s an essay, give yourself two weeks to finish the rough draft.

  2. For podcast inspiration on how to keep the fire going, check out The A24 Podcast’s most recent episode featuring Bryan Washington and Ocean Vuong. Both writings speak so beautifully about the writing process.

  3. To get a peek into my writing process, check out my RESIDENCY READING on Sat, Jan 9 at 6:30 PM ET, where I will share excerpts from my new novel and do a short Q&A.

  4. Last, but not least, send me some good vibes and warm thoughts during this submission process. Think, “Prince will pay off his student loans!" as you fall asleep tonight.