My favorite quote from one of the great cinematic masterpieces of our time, Birdman, goes a little something like this:
"Is this for real, or are you shooting a film?"
Coincidentally, that line is the first thing my dad said to me after I told him and my mom that my book would be getting published. Two months later and, honestly, it still doesn't feel real. Men in Tights was something I started writing in college just to keep myself entertained. When I first posted it online, I was a little - okay, maybe more than a little - nervous that no one would like it. I mean, I liked it, but I wrote it. Everything in the story came from some weird, desolate corner of my brain that nobody had visited before except me. Would other people think my story was boring? Or were my characters cliche? Or even worse...would they think my writing just plain sucked?
I vividly remember reading the first comment on the draft of Men in Tights that I posted on Wattpad in 2014. I was sitting on my couch, the spot where my second best writing takes place (my best writing always occurs in the shower), when I got an email notification. Someone, somewhere in the infinite black hole of the internet had left a comment on my story...and I was about 98.5% sure I was going to be sick.
At the time, the only thing I could compare that feeling to was getting called on to answer a question in a classroom. In that deadly silent moment between the professor saying your name and the rest of the class turning to watch as you open your mouth, you're positive that everything is wrong, wrong, wrong, and maybe this was a mistake and stupid and...
And they liked it. A random person who had never met me, and therefore had no obligation to tiptoe around my feelings, liked my story. And as it turned out, they weren't alone. And so I kept writing...and writing...and writing...and in a little under two years, I had three drafts of three YA manuscripts. Great, right? Sure! Except I couldn't find anyone to publish them.
For the record, the best decision I ever made as a writer was to slap my words on the internet and open my soul to public criticism. (No, I'm not being dramatic.) Because guess what? Not everyone was as enthusiastic about my story as I was. After I graduated college, between bouts of anxiety over constantly being asked the innocent, but nonetheless terrifying, question, "What are you going to do next?" I spent months compiling a list of agents and typing query letters until my fingers wanted to bleed. Spoiler alert: Every agent said no - or they didn't say anything at all. And that's totally normal. And it's okay.
If I hadn't already posted my work online and grown accustomed to criticism, I might have thought otherwise, but a healthy dose of failure is kind of, sort of a good thing. It makes your heart as hard as a rock (just kidding, my heart is still as mushy as baby food), and it gets you in the mindset of saying, "My manuscript is awesome and I'm going to try my damnedest to make you think so too, but if you don't, then that's fine; I'll just find someone who does." And eventually someone is going to come along and say, "Hey, you! Yeah, you with the super awesome story! I want to work with you! Let's make people love this book!"
That's where Swoon Reads comes in. They're the reason I keep quoting Birdman every other day. "Is this for real, or are you shooting a film?" It's really real. But the film is next year's bucket list goal. ;)
I guess what I'm trying to say is that if you're working hard at something and you're worried you won't succeed, whether it's writing or acting or accounting or starting a family or whatever...find a way to make it happen. You can do it, and anyone who says otherwise is full of the utmost crap that I can smell them from a mile away.
Trust me. If I can have my Birdman moment, then you will too.