The 7 Things I've Learned In 365 Days As a Published Author
From writing to finances to the naysayers. Here's what I've learned in one year living my dream:
365 days ago my former roommate, Page Coleman, woke me up with a craft HEB mimosa and a breakfast taco. A moment I’ll probably speak to until I’m withering old. My debut novel, Better Off Guilty, had been released worldwide across all platforms. Page was a student nurse at the time (now in her dream full-time roll: crazy what a year can do) and had set up our shared kitchen with a balloon and some hand-written cards that I still hold onto. She didn’t know it yet, but from that moment forward my perspective on life shifted forever. My brain was reborn into a state of gratefulness and my eyes filled up with stars. At age twenty-three with an egg-and-chorizo-taco hanging from my mouth: my dreams became the reality I live in today. Here’s what I’ve learned in my first year as the luckiest girl on earth:
1. Fear happens the first time. From there, it’s just adrenaline.
The first time your art is shared, you’re not going to feel like you’re running through a thornless field with manicured bare feet and a white dress from Anthropologie. Art release is nothing like the Tampax commercial it’s made out to be. The people that tell you it is are lying. (The first time) The night before Better Off Guilty went live I was violently sick to my stomach. The novel was NSFW and not in the red-roses-and-a-bottle-of-Merlot-after-work kind of way, but rather the violent holy-sh*t-this-is-kind-of-dark-for-my-bubbly-friend-Lindsey-to-have-written-is-she-okay-in-the-head kind of way. I knew the work would misalign people’s working perceptions about who I was and who I am to those that chose to read it. Those perceptions were ones that I felt safe inside of. To this day, I can find myself trying to fit inside the cramped cage for how I present to the world. Publishing my darkest art would force me to step out of that and wear a piece of my heart on my sleeve. And it felt horrible. The only thoughts that raced through my mind were not: What will my dream coming true tomorrow feel like? They were more like: What will people think when their predisposed idea of me fails? And then it happened anyway. For most of April 14th 2021, I was involuntarily shaking and checking my social media for unsatisfactory validation. Then April 15th came. April 16th. April 30th. Soon, a month had passed. No nonfiction characters in my life died. My friends and family loved me more as they found out more about me when reading my imagination on the page, rather than less. There were some people who found it necessary to reinforce the fear I had all along. One girl called to meet me face-to-face all to let me know that she felt jarred by my narrative and that she preferred I take a happier route next time if I wanted to keep her as a reader. We made up for that loss. As time passed, I was contacted by magazines, famous authors I’d looked up to, and even strangers - who just wanted to let me know that they enjoyed my work and that they had an eye on me. And in the end, I lived. Better than I ever had before. Now when I share my work the adrenaline comes. There’s a rush of something exciting, but the fear? That’s gone. I’ve already seen what life outside of the cage has to offer. And it’s even better than the Tampax commercial.
And no, I don’t talk to that girl anymore.
2. Your boyfriend is not going to call you. Treat it as math.
There’s a bigger moral to this story I promise. But for now, let’s reminisce. My friends had just taken me for drinks and dinner at a rooftop bar downtown to celebrate. The evening was truly divine. Then, I checked my phone to find tens of voicemails from my publisher, from my friends, and from numbers I didn’t even have. There were about thirty minutes left on April 14th when I decided to send the text to my long-distance boyfriend of the time:
“It’s the best day of my life and you’re not even going to call me?”
Long story short, this is why we don’t date men in venture capital. That person did venture on a long-winded effort later in the week to try and curb that L, but that’s beside the formal point. The moral of this story is that the people you expect to celebrate you the most in your biggest moments often won’t show up in the seat you saved them. While Better Off Guilty launch day didn’t land me on a red carpet, it will forever be one of the most important days of my life. It also would be the first day that I realized chasing my dreams would cause me to lose people. And your dreams don’t have to hold some large-scale visibility like The Oscars for people to decide to put their two cents in on the matter. I can’t tell you how many friends who I thought to be close to me began using diminishing language around me as I stepped out of my cage. Without me ever bringing up my work to them, people who I considered to be great friends and a support system would say things about what they knew to be my passion such as: “How’s the little hobby?” and “You’ll be onto a new fad in a year.” And unfortunately, I learned which friendships were all smoke in mirrors. I never responded. Instead, I removed myself from the company of those who found it uncomfortable to support my pursuit. Sure, I could’ve confronted them. But I learned very early in my life that 10% of people are not going to like what you do. Not for any good reason either. Treat it as math and move on. This frame of mind has allowed me to make a lot of decisions that I normally wouldn’t. I’ve never been angry at math. Even though I’m not cut out for accounting it wasn’t the numbers I was crying over during my time in business school. Math doesn’t carry emotions. When you notice the people who mock you or distance from you as you pursue your dreams, you should opt to see them as math. Sometimes people who you didn’t expect to be a part of the 10% will be and that stings. But remember, it is still just math. A number is a number. And any number of people are going to get uncomfortable inside their cage when you decide to leave yours. It doesn’t matter what scale you’re on: bestseller or not. Chasing your dreams creates pressure for them to evaluate their comfortability chasing their own, which maybe they’ve been denying themselves of for a while now. When people choose this route and choose to meet you with unwarranted remarks and criticism that you didn’t ask for - remind yourself not to lose sleep over you getting your numbers right. On the path to a fulfilling and uncomfortable life, you knew this would happen. It’s in the equation. Some people aren’t going to show up for you. Rebalance your expectations, treat it as math, and move on. There’s another 90% of the equation to focus on.
3. The only way to grow your art is by reaching down. Not up.
Our society has taught us that reaching for the stars is the ladder to accomplishment. Launch yourself beyond your wildest dreams. If you fall short, you’re still pretty successful. This was the strategy I took to heart when I published Better Off Guilty 365 days ago. It would be a lesson I only learned recently in December of 2021, writing a surprise piece that has yet to be announced (It’s the best yet, I promise). After researching and reading a lot from Julia Cameron I came to this conclusion: Your best story is already inside of you. In your gut, your bones, your bone marrow. The deeper you can go, the better. Think of yourself as a water well. You draw the bucket down into your soul to pull stories back up to the surface. You do not create stories by reaching above your life experience and trying to dupe someone else’s. Have I had an arson career that I was born into? No. That’s not what I’m saying here. Not every novel is a memoir. But, every story already lives inside the heart of the artist. You will draw your best work from your mental images of people, places, and things that live inside your well. Repurpose them. Let your experiences transcend into a new world. But, don’t reach beyond something you deeply feel in your heart. It’s not going to be as pure, which will dilute the quality. Rainwater is meant to fall. Well water is meant to drink. Remember that as you quench the thirst of the story inside you.
4. Your success is not a threat. Do not try to make it one.
Often in conversation with someone new, I find that people tell me that I’m very lucky I know what my life passion is. That is true. I raise gratitude toward this every single day. But, I find it discouraging when it’s presented in a you-beat-me-to-it kind of way. There is an author who I follow on Instagram. She is a few years my senior and won her first billboard for her debut novel a few weeks ago. I am so excited for her. However, there was a part of me like: “Damn. I wish I’d already done that.” You won’t realize it at first, but people are going to think this way about you too when you start racking in even what might be in your eyes: small feats. What I love about that one author is that she encourages me often. Her success is never a threat to mine, despite being in the same industry with “limited resources” and all that sh*t we hear all of the time. When people personally remind you how cool your life journey looks (probably from social media) don’t deny your progress but, always point back to theirs too. Don’t float in your own success. What goes around comes around. Take every opportunity to be interested in others on their own journey. Ask people what they want to do. If they want to be a writer, share your resources rather than gatekeep them. If they tell you that they have no idea - share with them some advice that helped you discover yours. Compliment them on the things they know and you don’t. Ask them questions. Check back in with the people you care about on their own goals. Don’t get so caught up in your own journey that you forget to be a part of the 90% for others. No matter how close you are to someone, never make your success a threat. In doing this, you won’t see others’ success as a threat either. The jealously when I saw my friend’s billboard only lasted a moment. Why? Because jealously is just proof that it can be done. By them first, but you next. And when their success isn’t a threat…they might even just help you get there. Because kindness always comes back around.
5. Quality work is fun work.
And boy did I learn that the hard way. I nearly drafted an entire unnamed and never to be named novel after Better Off Guilty that currently sits in the digital wasteland. I was yearning for another milestone to sit on. So I wrote another book. And the book just…wasn’t good. It wasn’t bad either. I just had no feelings about it. There was no room for me to feel excited. It was structurally a book. But…no zest lived in its pages. And because of that, it never will see the light of day. Why did this happen? Because I was writing to finish a book. I wanted another item on the shelf with my name on it. And it could’ve been that. But at the end of the day, I knew I wasn’t going to be proud of that. When I am having fun doing my work - the writing becomes my best yet. Every time I’m working on my art now I ask myself one question: Is this fun for me? Fun can still be challenging. (Think of a video game on level expert) Fun can still piss you off. (Think of forgetting to save on video game at level expert) But overall: Is this fun for me? When my answer is not yes, but hell yes…that’s when I know I’m writing a story worth telling.
6. Move your savings to a high-yield savings account.
If you want to be a full-time artist eventually (whether that’s when you’re 29 or 48 or 65), the time for financial literacy is now. Learn to invest. Learn to keep that money invested. Learn to tax-harvest your losses. Build savings in high-yield accounts. Stop waiting for a big book deal to change your life situation. Read money books. Listen to podcasts. Stop fearing your finances because the barrier to understanding them seems high. Build your cushion now, so you have something to fall back on when you do take that next step toward your dream life. No matter where you are: prepare your finances for the life you want, not the life you have. When the life you want arrives: money will be an afterthought because you’ve already primed your financial situation. No amount of money could keep you from your dream because you’ve already learned to manage it. It’s the best thing you can give yourself.
7. Don’t ask for anything. Then ask for help. Cherish the helper.
365 days ago, I would’ve been embarrassed to admit many of my emails were not responded to. I would constantly reach out to industry professionals and compliment them on a craft done well. A great book, a great marketing job, didn’t matter. When I got no response, it felt like a strikeout. Then one day…a famous author came along. And she said, “Hey thanks - what do you write about?” over an Instagram DM. I don’t keep up with the Kardashians so this was pretty much my moment to fangirl and scream because a famous author had messaged me back? Pinch me…I’m dreaming. That author didn’t go on to read my book. But, she did sign up for my email list and give me some tips when I asked her about what advice would make me a better candidate in this industry. This was all the faith I needed. From that point on, I’ve reached out to many in the industry. Some respond. Some don’t. But, this is how I founded two of my closest mentor relationships. I maintain these relationships by cherishing them past their lifespan or window that I might “need” them. Send your mentors Christmas cards. Say thank you. Say thank you multiple times. The people that are there to help you along the way are your team. Your team extends far past a marketing agency, your agent, or your publisher. These are all great people in your life. But, building your creative support system is one of the most valuable structures you can give yourself. Having people in your corner within your industry is no small feat. Treat them with respect and remind them why they’re there. They aren’t hands to shake, but rather hands to hold.
Thank you for being on this journey with me. I’m sending my gratefulness to you and not taking a moment of it for granted. You have all of my love and a promise that I’m creating something on the page we will be enjoying together. Soon.
I’ve recently decided to move my email list to Substack. (I haven’t officially moved contacts over because it might take a while…but I’m going to!) This channel will remain free. I’d love for you to be a part of this little community and read more posts like this every week. All posts are posted on this blog and delivered directly to your inbox. Don’t be shy!