This post originally appeared on my tinyletter, Where is my Mind?
It’s the end of the year, and so of course my timelines are flooded with “best of” lists, and as an academic, particularly full of best of books lists. I have a friend whose book is (rightfully) on many of those lists. It’s been a wonderful rise watching her go from graduate student to renowned author and speak through Twitter and other social media. What a decade it has been for her. She has earned every single one of the accolades and every inch (and then some) of her success.
And I see these lists and think of my own book that will hopefully see the light of day next year. And I dream about perhaps making some of those best-of lists, being nominated for (Canadian) literary awards, of doing full-house readings and book parties, of interviews and speaking gigs. I am no so naive as to think any of this will actually happen, but to be able to see it happen for someone you know is to give hope that maybe it could happen to you.
It is taboo to put something like this down in writing, which is why, friends, I am saving it for you here on this small space. Especially as a woman writer, I am supposed to be humble and grateful and self-effacing and not expect much more than being put in the remainder bin. But part of me wants to think that maybe my book will matter more than just a moral victory for me in getting it published. Maybe people will read it and want to talk about it and it will matter outside of me.
Part of me is still the girl who was told that it was unrealistic to want to be a writer, that it wouldn’t happen. The girls whose English teacher told her in Sec IV that when I read my writing aloud, I made it sound better than it actually was (true story). The girl who was told repeatedly on the Internet that I shouldn’t be allowed to write, that I should be silenced, that I had nothing of any value to say. Part of me wants all of the accolades because I want to show them, show them my true worth, my value, that my words do matter, it wasn’t an unrealistic dream, and that my words are good as they are.
And I know that if I am seeking all of this external validation for my work in order to define my worth that I will inevitably be disappointed. No external praise or recognition will erase feelings of Rejection Sensitivity Dysphoria, or my ADHD brain’s need for constant stimulation, meaning that any accolades will feel good in the moment and ring hollow too soon after.
Dany Laferriere writes about his imagined success for his first novel within the pages of that same novel. He imagines seeing himself stealing his own book from a bookstore while watching others leaf through it. He imagines being a guest on the francophone talkshow in Montreal, of what that conversation would be like. He imagines another life for himself and writes them on the pages of the book and makes it real. The last lines of the book are, as he sits and looks at his completed manuscript, this is your chance; take it.
He was already a writer in Haiti, which is why he was forced to flee to Canada. And then, he kept writing, for the Haitian French-language newspaper out of New York City. But he decided that he wanted more than that, and wrote himself into a literary sensation, une personnalité. He told the stories he wanted to tell in the way he wanted to tell them. He wrote and re-wrote his life, over and over again.
I imagine my own success, but not in the pages of the book I just wrote. I am writing them here because perhaps I am not as bold as people assume I am because it is presumptuous and arrogant and uncouth to voice these ambitions, these dreams, these quasi-expectations. I am already planning how I will promote the book, who I will harass, I mean ask to read and review it, who I can hit up for small but important media appearances.
I don’t expect it just to happen, and I don’t think I necessarily deserve it. But I think I’ve put the work in. I think I’ve earned a little bit of praise? Maybe? I don’t know. Maybe holding the book in my hands will be enough. Maybe one reader telling me my book meant something to them. But they probably won’t, if I know myself well enough.
I just want my book to be a success. But what does that even mean? Unless I define it, the book won’t ever feel like a success. I’d like it to break even, or even make some money for my wonderful publisher. How many books is that? How do I make that happen? Is it appearances, awards, social media? How do I help my publisher accomplish it?
And why is that goal about someone else and not me?
So I dream for myself and I dream for others and the more time I have the more dreams I weave for my book. I know I will be humbled, because my reality never, ever, ever matches how reality actually unfolds. And sometimes it is unexpectedly wonderful. But I have to keep dreaming, nonetheless. My ADHD brain can tell so many stories at once, and those dreams can be fuel for the next thing.