Let The World Change You

There are things that people don’t tell you about getting your first book published.

No one told me how surreal it would be to see a stranger reading my book at a cafe, or what it would be like to listen as someone read the names of my characters out loud to themselves at a book fair. No one could have prepared me for the feeling of deep gratitude that would rush over me every time I saw that someone added Somewhere In Between to their To-Read shelf on Goodreads. No one told me that, each time someone approached me with a pen in their hand to sign their copy of my book, the only thing I’d want to write would be “Thank you.”

No one told me, and I’m glad to have experienced those sweet surprises on my own.

Somewhere In Between was released last August. As of today, it has been out in the world for exactly three months, and it has taken me this entire time to figure out how to express my feelings. I’m sitting here, at the Writers Room, listening to construction on State Street–and I’m still not entirely sure how I feel.

In a perpetual state of numb awe, I think, would be a good way to describe it.

Before the book, I knew that I was going to be happy–how could I not? This is a moment that I had been working for since I was eight years old. When I was younger, I’d imagining what it would be like to have my first book in my hands–what the story would be about, what the cover would look like. And for the past five years–if not longer–all my decisions were based on one goal. Getting that book published. There were parties that I didn’t go to, movies nights and lunch dates that I turned down, my own interests that I sacrificed, because I wanted so badly to become someone more than who I was–I wanted to be a “real” writer, an author.

When the first copies arrived at my doorstep last July, I was speechless–all I wanted to do was stare at it and hold it in my hands. Not even reading it, just holding it. I was elated. But no one told me how, more than happy, I would be relieved.

Relieved, and as time went on, even a little lost.

No one had told me about the somber emptiness that would come after finally completing such a big goal.

I smiled and showed the world my happiness, because that is easier to translate to people than the more complicated, existential feelings that have been swirling around me. The feeling I had of wanting to rush to my grandmother, or my dear friend Ray, and show them–Look, I finally did it!–but not being able to. Or the impulse to reach out to friends and family who haven’t always understood why I couldn’t make it to dinner or parties and explain–this is what I’ve been fighting for!

It was strange to wake up each morning without needing to fight. I didn’t know who I was anymore. I didn’t recognize myself without my ambition telling me that who I was wasn’t good enough, that I should want more. I didn’t know who to turn to when I kept asking myself, “Now what?”

My entire life was shaped around my ambitions, and I realized that, maybe I didn’t need to sacrifice so much of my self to achieve them.

There were moments when I wondered– was worth it?

Did I really need to live my life with the pressure of my own ambition bearing down on me, dictating all my choices, keeping me from really living and enjoying my life?

The only way to soothe the high-highs and low-lows of post-book-launch life was to take deep breaths and swaddle my feelings of joy/loss/glee/regret/exhileration/exhaustion with heaps of gratitude.

As November approached, I knew that NaNoWriMo was really important. This month’s challenge has been more than just whether or not I could write 50,000 words. I knew that I could write 50,000 words. But, could I work towards that goal while also being able to put the pen down in the evening? Could I “win” NaNo while also being myself?

That’s what I wanted, this whole time. That’s why I started to read and write. I needed a place to simply be myself.

That was my goal–and I did it. Last night I completed my 50k word count (clocking in, officially, at 50,029 words) while also cultivating a lifestyle and new work philosophy that actually served me. I’ve been writing every day, I’ve been working towards new projects. I’ve been sharing my work in the community—and I come home at the end of the day, a girl who cooks dinner and reads books and sees her friends and has aspirations (and a life) entirely separate from her career.

Instead of fighting so hard against the current to prove to myself that I could change what my life looked like, I’ve been stepping back and letting life take it’s natural course. My philosophy has been to let the world change you, and shape you into the person you are meant to be, the person you are.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about how being a writer is like living in a constant state of becoming. How, when you’re a creator, you are constantly piecing together ideas, forming something out of nothing. And part of that process is having a vision–a forward focus on something more than the current state of being. I’ve been wondering if dissatisfaction and the internal friction of ambition is a necessary part of the process, or if it’s possible to accept things as they are while you move forward at the same time.

I’m not sure if I’ll ever know the answer to that, but I’m happy to be here now.