Learning to be proud of what you create
Get comfortable being a beautiful, flashing, brightly-colored neon sign that reads: "I made this!"
In today’s newsletter: pushing aside creative insecurities and learning how to be proud of the work we create.
When my first book, Wanderess, hit stores last February, I was hesitant to promote it. Sure, I shared the obligatory “my book is out now!” post on Instagram. Yes, I had reached out to acquaintances, friends, and family to help spread the word. But, for the most part, I didn’t mark the occasion the way I wanted to. I regret that now.
Wanderess was not only my very first book but it was published by Penguin Random House (the dream!). And yet, I didn’t throw so much as a party or raise a glass of bubbly to its arrival. Looking back, I’ve tried to make sense of this.
Wanderess had been a joint effort between me, my co-author Elise Fitzsimmons, and our talented contributing writers, who each poured their expertise onto its pages. I felt awkward about celebrating a project that belonged to multiple people. Would it be inappropriate? I questioned if I deserved to throw a book party if I hadn’t been the only one to write the book. Would it be tacky? I wondered if it was odd to position myself as the author (although my name was on the cover as the author) for fear of upsetting our contributing writers. Would I look like a diva?
My hesitations paired with a global pandemic that made travel guides rather useless, made it so that Wanderess arrived somewhat quietly, sledding down a bunny hill comprised of a few articles touting its release and a few giveaways I’d planned in advance. And just like that, over two years of work culminated in a shy: “uh, hi, my book is here.”
I’ve been thinking a lot about Wanderess’ release as I ready myself for the arrival of my second book, Call You When I Land, coming out this November. What did I learn? What will I do differently? Can I push aside my insecurities and celebrate my success?
Things will be different this time, I reason. For starters, my next book is a travel memoir, the sort that lends itself to book clubs, in-store events, and interviews in a way that Wanderess (a women’s travel guide) never could. Also, this memoir will be my book rather than a shared project. I can promote it without fear of upsetting other contributors or looking like a spotlight hog.
And yet, new insecurities step forward: What if people don’t like what I have to say? What if I just suck as a writer? What if I just suck as a person? What if no one buys it? I’m not Michelle Obama or Prince Harry—who cares about my story, anyway?
I am still learning to get comfortable—however uncomfortable it might be—with becoming a flashing, colorful neon sign that reads: I wrote a book I’m proud of! Now, please go buy it!
A Very Important Lesson to Learn
There’s an episode of the podcast, How to Fail with Elizabeth Day, in which she interviews the now best-selling author, Brené Brown. In the episode, Brown shares the story of her first book, which was a gut-wrenching, heart-breaking flop.
I’m not talking about a bad review in The New Yorker (although that would be devastating, too). I’m talking about a book that sold so few copies that it introduced Brown to two new publishing terms: “remaindered,” in which a book sells so poorly that it’s relegated to bargain bins before being “pulped” (AKA destroyed and recycled).
Brown remembers her critical mistake: "When the book came out, I decided I wouldn’t disgrace myself with the surly work of promoting and marketing it,” she recalled. She didn’t want to bother people with requests for buying her book. She didn’t want to become a beautiful, flashing, brightly-colored neon sign that reads: Hi, I wrote something pretty outstanding. Please go buy my new book!
Instead, she did nothing. She roiled in resentment and bitterness. She wondered why The New York Times wasn’t knocking on her door or why book sales weren’t skyrocketing. She did the thing that so many of us artists often do: she sat back and waited for the quality of her work to earn her the praise she felt she deserved.
In the end, her lesson was a tough but very important one to learn: “If you’re not going to be excited about what you put into the world,” she said. “Don’t ask other people to get excited about it.”
Get Comfortable Being a Neon Sign
I’ve promised myself I’ll learn from Wanderess. I’ve promised myself that I’ll start promoting my travel memoir, like now. Rather than shyly nudging family and friends to spread the word, I’d knock (no, pound!) on everyone’s door and say: “I have a travel memoir coming out this November that I think you’ll just love.”
This month, I’ve spoken at travel conferences, and at every single one, I’ve met a woman with an in-progress novel or passion project that she shyly told me about. Each woman would look down, nervously sharing details of their endeavors—just as I had when I shared the news of my second book deal, wondering if people would think I’m too young and narcissistic to be penning a memoir at 35.
And yet, I left those conversations hoping that they’d learn to become a beautiful, flashing, brightly-colored neon sign touting their work because I wanted to see their ideas brought to fruition. And so today, I take a break from sharing travel stories to say this, dear reader: whatever it is you’re working on, be proud of it.
Maybe it’s a screenplay or a record album. Perhaps it’s a podcast or a manuscript. Maybe it’s a travel blog or a new line of products. Maybe it’s a play or a recipe you’re developing. Whatever it is you’re doing, be excited about it. Be more than excited about it. Be brave enough to tell others what you’re doing and get them excited about it. Get comfortable being a beautiful, flashing, brightly-colored neon sign that tells the world: I DID THIS!!