“What the Hell Am I Even Doing?” A Self-Publishing Story
Preface: A Brief History of Creative Masochism
I wrote/drew my first book on some pieces of poster board for a Kindergarten assignment that my teacher called the “Big Book” project.
I have no idea why my particular assortment of words, crayon scrawls, and glitter glue caught Mrs. Smith’s attention, but she told my mom after our presentations that she fully expected to see a book with my name on it in the book store someday.
And with those few encouraging words, sweet, rosy-cheeked Mrs. Smith doomed me to the madness and solipsism of writing and the soul-crushing expectation of having a “calling.”
When I was in the sixth grade, my teacher dragged my frowning emo teenage self to the principal’s office with my short story assignment so he could tell me to “never give up on my talent” or some other such Responsible Adult platitude. In the seventh grade, I wrote my first novel and terrorized my friends with it. By the eighth grade, when depression had driven me out of school, sharing stories online for the positive feedback of strangers helped me get out of bed every morning. Writing remained a constant, driving force in my life until I eventually graduated with a bachelor’s degree in the subject.
(Then I stopped writing for a little while because nothing kills your creative flow like 20-page research essays about 16th century old dudes ~poetically~ imagining fucking women as vegetables.) *
I say all that mostly to explain that I’ve been “The Writer” in any given group at any given time for the majority of my life. Though I tried my best to be the best at most things, the pretentious asshole writer inside me always took comfort that if I failed at something, at least I still had my true “talent.” I would never fail at that. I could never fail at that.
Because I never really tried.
Talent is a terrifying word. It’s an existential expectation.
Fear of failure silenced my voice for a few years, and on the graduation side of college, with mounting worries over student loan payments and car payments and health insurance coverage (and-and-and…) those childhood dreams of a creative career didn’t make much sense anymore.
I focused on getting a good job and making a comfortable life for myself, and eventually, battering myself down into the mold of straight-laced, cheerful professionalism began to drive me back to the comfort and familiarity of writing. I needed the safety of that realm to let my weirdness flow, to be alone and crazy and chaotic (and just a little creepy and violent).
But the thing that really pushed me to make the leap from just playing around to publishing? A brush with mortality.
And when I say “mortality,” I mean that I was standing in the check-out line at Publix with a bottle of wine, ID at the ready, when the cashier exclaimed, “Don’t worry about it! I know you’re just a little over 21.”
Just a little?
Oh hey, I realized in a moment of spectacular temporal and mathematical failure, I’m 29 years old already.
Not old by any means, but almost 30, a writer who hadn’t written, who’d published nothing contrary to the earnest beliefs of family and Kindergarten teachers. I could easily blink and find myself 39, still without a single book to my name, still daydreaming of a tomorrow that would never be today.
So thanks to wine and a catty cashier (and besides, what kind of jerk would I be to let Mrs. Smith down?), I decided to face my fear of failure. It was finally time to live up to that existential expectation.**
First, I just needed to… you know… actually finish writing something.
To be continued in “What the Hell Am I Even Doing?” Part I: Just Write the Damn Thing
*Literature sure is weird.
**Other Inspirations: My friend Mat Bowes self-published (his book is called Hell: A Love Story), and I met people my age and younger who were selling their self-published books at comic conventions. Competition makes for a great motivator.