I’ll be honest: I’ve been putting off writing this post. When my debut book, Tell Me Everything, comes out (available everywhere 2/26!), it will mark 10 years since I started writing creatively. I didn’t realize how difficult it was going to be to talk about those 10 years for every blog post and interview. How personally I was going to take being approached (rightfully!) as a debut, when I’ve come to feel like a hardened vet—albeit without the books to show for it. How tough it was going to be to look back at a decade of my life, which changed me so much, and close that chapter. I feel compelled to share my experience honestly—because that’s my way generally, and because as the host of the First Draft podcast I ask so much truth and public reflection from my guests. But frankly, I’m still coming to terms with it myself. But there’s good in sharing that feeling, too, so here we go.
I started writing books in the winter of 2009, in the wake of my father’s sudden death from a pulmonary embolism—a blood clot that reached his lungs. In the San Francisco airport in January, waiting for the flight home after his memorial service, I realized the only book I’d packed was a biography of Andrew Jackson. It was the book I’d bought Dad for Christmas. Looking back, I can’t believe I thought I would ever read it. Walking through Hudson Books, I came across TWILIGHT. I’d missed that whole phenomenon, but some mega-popular fluff felt about right. I bought the book and read the entire thing on the six-hour red-eye flight to JFK. I loved it. At JFK I bought New Moon and started that on the hour-long shuttle flight to D.C., where I lived at the time.
I went back to my desk job and timed my lunch breaks to be after everyone else’s, so I could finish the series in peace—and avoid talking to anyone else. I was about to fall into a year-long depression, but I didn’t know that at the time. I only knew that Twilight—and this new category of books, young adult—reminded me that books have always been my passion. I decided to try writing one myself.
Book one took a year. Book two was about the same. Book three got me an agent, and was taken to acquisitions by an enthusiastic editor. Unfortunately, the publisher rejected it. Two months later, my husband abruptly asked for a divorce. When my dad died, I started writing books. When my marriage fell apart, I started the First Draft podcast. Five years later, the weekly podcast is still going strong and has kept me intricately tied to this industry I love so much. Young adult saved my ass, again, but this time it wasn’t just the books—it was the people.
In 2015 I moved from D.C. to Los Angeles (with a brief 6-month stay at my mom’s house in between), wrote another book, ghost-wrote yet another, and finally, in 2016, Amanda Maciel at Scholastic offered me the chance to develop and share Tell Me Everything with the world. Now, one season change and two complete re-writes later, the book is finally about to come out.
The thing people don’t talk about enough is how success can feel like failure. The closer I got to publication, the more I felt like a fraud. All my insecurities bubbled to the surface—that I should have had many more books published by now, that I was so far behind my friends, that this book wasn’t as good as it could be, that once I was actually published everyone would see that I wasn’t brilliant and think I’d been blowing hot air on my podcast all these years. I doubt those thoughts are going to disappear. But with the help of my friends, family, and therapist, I am learning to breathe in, breathe out, and dismiss them. We all feel like imposters, if we have any dose of humility. And we can all feel like imposters together.
It’s hard to tell the story of my path to publication. It’s marked by the two greatest tragedies of my life. But the truth is, while living through the untimely death of a parent and emerging new from a divorce were catalysts that led me to the writing community, which has filled my life with joy, creativity, and understanding. That’s the part of this decade that I’m taking into the next one, and for that I can’t be anything but transcendently grateful.