Yesterday was a very special day for me: it was the day my very first book was released. The support of my family and friends on this momentous event was overwhelming.
YET, it was also a terrifying day, because it makes a gal feel incredibly vulnerable to put a work of art out into the universe. These are people, places, events and intimate encounters that I conjured up out of my imagination, and now they’re fair game for criticism out in the harsher, wider world. This was all much less scary when it was only my mom and my besties reading early drafts of the book.
I remember a high school writing teacher saying to us over and over again: “You are not your work. Criticism of your work is not criticism of you.”
Yeah, that lesson never really took for me. If life has taught me anything so far it’s that I’m incapable of developing thicker skin. And yet, I’ve continued to create writing — journalistic, academic, popular, and now fiction — mostly because I can’t not write. It’s like breathing for me.
That being said, I’ll be the first to drop the jaw-dropping news to the world: This book I just released yesterday? Well, it’s not perfect. Not even close.
It’s a bit long.
It’s surely got a few typos in it (when I made the decision to self-publish, I knew I’d be doing it without a start-up budget for extra help with editing the more than 90,000 words that comprise the book.)
I ran out of time to get the headers how I wanted them (the Type-A graphic designer in me is sad about this, but I choose to blame Microsoft Word.)
And, well, in a nutshell, it’s my first shot at genre fiction. Romance genre readers should really enjoy this format, including the predictability of a fairly classic will they/won’t they formula with a guaranteed happily ever after. Others less charmed by the conventions of the genre might not like this as much. Also, there’s the small fact that although I’ve had an absurd amount of writing training, none of it is in creative writing. (AKA I’m winging it based on what I’ve picked up as a reader. Granted, I typically read two or three novels a week, but still…)
No one can tell you more about what’s wrong with a piece of work than its creator. But at the end of the day, I decided to release my book anyway, even if my fingers shook as I pushed ‘publish.’
I sat on the manuscript for A Time to Fall for about a decade, only occasionally picking it up for minor (and sometimes major) edits and restructuring. Then back in the drawer it went. I’d dabble with it, hide it. Rip it apart, sew it back together, then hide it again, all the while treating it like a hobby, not like a dream that needed an action plan. I’d think the words that I’d NEVER want my own kids or my college students to chant about their own creative work: “Not good enough. Not good enough. Not good enough.”
The characters though? They kept popping up in my mind. My dreams. My imagination would constantly wander to them in quiet moments. And that wasn’t the only thing I couldn’t shake. This quote from Anne Lamott’s classic writing book Bird by Bird haunts my heart at the most random times (times that ultimately prove to be when I need to remember it the most):
“Oh my God, what if you wake up some day, and you’re 65, or 75, and you never got your memoir or novel written; or you didn’t go swimming in warm pools and oceans all those years because your thighs were jiggly and you had a nice big comfortable tummy; or you were just so strung out on perfectionism and people-pleasing that you forgot to have a big juicy creative life, of imagination and radical silliness and staring off into space like when you were a kid? It’s going to break your heart.”
-Anne Lamott in Bird by Bird
And that was what it came down to from me. If I didn’t publish this book, and if I didn’t move on and write the rest of this series for the characters that were now etched into my soul, it was going to break. my. heart. If my books can provide even a few hours of relaxation for a harried, stressed-out, stretched-too-thin reader (as literally hundreds of romances have done for me over the years) then it will have been worth the vulnerability.
And so, with trembling fingers, and with full awareness of how I could have kept polishing and improving this book for at least another decade, how I could have kept this whole universe safely ensconced between my own two ears, I decided to send it out into the world with a mother’s heart: fully aware of its faults, but enamored and proud anyway. And it’s my deepest hope that I might inspire even one more nervous, thin-skinned creative type out there to do the same with his or her own imperfect work.
So one book down, who knows how many to go. The publishing process might get easier the more I do it, and my writing and editing will surely improve, but comfort with letting my creative work out into the world? Much like my skin getting thicker, I’m going to assume that’s just not going to happen.
Jess Vonn is the author of A Time to Fall, book one in the “Love by the Seasons” series, available on Amazon, iBooks, Kobo, and Barnes and Noble. Her third book publishes in Summer 2018. Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and join her reader group!
About “A Time to Fall”
After an unfortunate discovery involving her boyfriend and a blonde and a glass-walled shower, Winnie Briggs is bolting from her Chicago-based life in search of a fresh start as the editor of rural Bloomsburo’s newspaper. Winnie’s only desire is to put all of her energy into her writing — well, that and to officially retire her lady parts in an act of self-defense. Unfortunately, as scandal unfolds in her new community, her closest ally comes in the form of delicious-smelling Chamber of Commerce director Cal Spencer, who also happens to be the son of Winnie’s benevolent (if meddling) landlady. Cal is a serial non-committer, yet his electric attraction to Winnie’s curves and quirks has him contemplating breaking his iron-clad commitment to never mix work with pleasure. The couple’s sexual chemistry escalates alongside the town’s drama, leaving them wondering: can they survive the fall with their jobs, their hearts, and their pledges of non-commitment intact?