Back when my husband and I were planning our wedding, we got some really good advice. Figure out what really matters to you, someone said. Decide on a few big priorities—a few things you care about and are comfortable investing money and/or time in. That way, you can also figure out which things you don’t care so much about. And then, hopefully, you won’t get swept up in the sudden need for Chiavari chairs instead of basic chairs, or a band instead of a DJ, or an extra dessert buffet instead of just cake…unless those things are in line with your priorities.
Two things recently reminded me of this advice. I read an incredibly wise and helpful blog post by Nancy Werlin about thriving in a long-term writing career, and I also read an incredibly wise and helpful Twitter thread by Katie Bayerl, inspired by Nancy’s article, about staying focused on the things you really care about during your debut year. If you’re a writer at any stage in your publishing journey, I recommend checking out both.
These reflections got me thinking that I should apply that wedding planning advice to my experience as a debut author. I resolved that, before the start of 2018, the year my first book comes out, I should think about why I write and what I care about most when it comes to starting my career as a published writer. So I’ve been mulling over those questions, and here’s what I’ve come up with so far.
Why I write:
- I write to explore big questions and ideas and feelings that matter to me and, I think, may matter to other people, too.
- I write to create vulnerable, flawed, loving, lovable characters who make big mistakes and learn and grow. As a perfectionist kid (and adult), I’ve often judged myself harshly and felt ashamed of mistakes I’ve made or embarrassing things I’ve done. It’s always been a source of comfort to love characters who make mistakes and embarrass themselves, and to notice that I don’t judge them so harshly. Books have taught me to be kinder to myself, and I write so that I can delve into the kinds of mistakes and raw, vulnerable moments I think readers will relate to, and so that maybe my stories can help readers be kinder to themselves, too.
- I write to give voice to the upper middle grade experience. I spent ten years teaching sixth to eighth grade and saw firsthand how many students gravitated toward young adult novels because most middle grade seemed too young for them…but also really wanted older middle grade novels that felt geared toward their age and their experiences. This is an area where I have something valuable to add to what is being published.
- I write because writing energizes me and surprises me and brings me joy.
Looking at this list, I’m reminded that I *don’t* write to reach a certain word count every month or to finish a certain number of manuscripts every year or to sell a certain number of new projects. I mean, don’t get me wrong—I’d love to have my books keep being published. But that’s not what motivates me on a deep, enduring level. So when I see other people celebrating winning NaNoWriMo or getting new book deals or completing three manuscripts this year, maybe instead of comparing myself to them and deciding I fall short, I can try to come back to my own core reasons for writing and let them ground me.
As for the process of becoming a published author, one truly wonderful perk of getting a book deal has been joining a talented and supportive online group of 2018 debut authors. But the tricky thing about connecting with so many other debut authors online is that I constantly see all the different types of recognition other people’s books are getting (but mine might not!), and all the different types of promotion other people are doing (eek, so maybe I should, too?).
There are a lot of things I can’t control about how my first book will be reviewed and received once it’s out there in the world. But there are some things I can control. Of those things, I know it wouldn’t be feasible to do every type of promotion or fight for invitations to every kind of event or buy every type of swag. But here are the priorities I know are worth my time and energy:
- I care about connecting with teachers and librarians. Any event I can do that would bring me into contact with this crowd should be a priority. That’s why my co-author Cordelia and I decided to schedule our book launch for our release day, a Tuesday, rather than that Friday, because we wanted to be able to get to New Jersey early that Saturday morning for a conference with educators. That’s also why it’s a priority to me to develop a discussion/curriculum guide to support educators who want to use the book with kids, even though that will take time I could spend writing something new.
- I also care about school visits. As a teacher, I loved organizing author visits at my school, and now I can’t wait to do some myself. Getting a chance to connect with kids will bring me joy, so I want to make that happen whenever I can.
- I care about writing (see above). I care about making my second book the best it can be. I care about preserving the time and energy to keep creating stories…and I care a whole lot about having a full life outside of writing, too, and want to be better about seeing my non-writing commitments as valuable and productive.
I know having a list like this won’t be a magic fix. When I was getting married, custom invitations were decidedly *not* a priority we set ahead of time, but I still couldn’t resist having some really special ones designed. But I like the idea that these reflections will be here for me to return to and add to, and that I can use them as a guide to set limits and reassess when I need to…which I’m sure I will.
So here’s to 2018, a year in which I resolve to do all I can to stay grounded and grateful as one of my stories makes its way into the world. I hope it’s a great year for you, too, writing-wise and otherwise.