I was terrified when my first short story I got published.
The story was sad. It was risque. And it was deeply personal for many reasons.
It was also published in my grad school’s literary magazine, so my peers read it. My professors, too, and of course, my mom wanted several copies. My friends and cousins asked about it, so I shared it with them as well.
I was beyond grateful for the support. Their praise and sympathy of the main character whose heart was broken. Their words of encouragement. It was all overwhelmingly comforting and appreciated.
My heart was so full.
But it wasn’t easy submitting that short story, let alone dealing with the possibly disastrous aftermath. Not only had I never been published before, but the subject matter was a little different than what others in my program were writing about. It was about love, of course, but it was mostly about heartbreak.
As I’ve said before, I was the only one writing romance or anything about love, and I wrote this short story before I really broke out of my shell and embraced my love of romance.
I didn’t want to share the story.
I didn’t even think it’d get published. It was a literary magazine, so I thought it would only accept “real” stories, the ones riddled with insight of family, past, nature, etc. -anything but love.
So I tried to use this as an excuse not to submit. That they wouldn’t print a broken love story about a one-night hookup where the girl felt more for the guy than he did for her.
Her heart was shattered, quite literally in the story.
I even asked my professor who encouraged us to submit to the magazine. I asked him what kinds of stories would be eligible and appropriate. He of course was very open and said, “Anything! Your story can be about anything.” He then urged me to submit, that it would be great for me since I wanted to be a writer, that this would be a good place to start.
I remained standing there awkwardly as the classroom emptied, not convinced that I should go through with it. After a little back and forth with my professor, in which I told him a little about my story, I assumed he could infer my discomfort.
Because he asked me, “What’re you afraid of?”
What was I afraid of indeed….
There were many things beyond it just being my first time to submit my work anywhere, and beyond the fear of rejection. I wasn’t equipped to handle it, not having had any experience at that point.
My main fear was that I’d written something so unlike myself.
So unlike who anyone knew me as.
The story was scandalous and even used curse words (gasp!), neither of which defined me at that time (the cursing has definitely changed, for those of you wondering).
People didn’t know this part of me. People have always known me to be the “good girl.”
But it’s true. I was the smart, innocent girl. The one who got all As and quietly made her way down the hall to her locker. I was the one who never cursed. I never went to parties. Even in college, I only went to a few during my junior and senior years.
I felt that this story would be my version of coming out, and I wasn’t prepared for it.
I didn’t want people to look at me differently, and I thought that they would, even though some were my friends. With this one short story of only three pages long, I feared all the things I do about writing, but mostly that I wouldn’t be that person anymore.
I wouldn’t be the girl I once was, but instead, a different version of myself.
With the encouragement of my boyfriend (now husband), professor, and peers, I submitted that story.
And it got third place in the contest.
The positive response felt so satisfying. I had nothing to fear from the start.
And this moment helped me come into my own. It helped me further embrace a more daring attitude. It encouraged me to try different things and explore sexier topics.
It helped me grow and evolve.
From there, I went on to write the novella for my master’s thesis, which is explicit and risque and everything I never thought I’d share with a room full of people. The short story was nothing in comparison to the words and subject matter of my thesis project.
After that, I wrote my book I mentioned last week. Which, believe it or not, is even sexier and heated than my thesis.
And I’m excited to share it with everyone, which surprises me. Sure, a part of me is terrified of the response, of how a broader group of people will see me now, because some things will never change.
But I found that people are supportive of this newest book, just as they were with my first published short story.
The people who want me to succeed are supportive and even proud that I’ve written a book, no matter the subject. They’re my motivation to keep chasing this crazy dream that I never thought I’d go for due to the nature of romance, writing, life – everything.
But in particular, I was holding myself back because of the stigma of romance. I never wanted it associated with me because I couldn’t handle how it would change people’s perception of me.
But here’s the thing – I changed.
Just because I was one way in high school and even in college, it doesn’t mean that I’m still that person, or that I even have to be. None of us are bound to our old selves (can I get an AMEN, y’all).
So much happens during our lives. We enter new phases, take up new trends, and explore new avenues. It’s only natural to change as a person. Don’t be afraid of it, and most definitely do not feel embarrassed or ashamed of it.
It’s not a bad thing to change, especially when you do it for yourself – and you should do it for yourself! Don’t let others dictate who you are and who you become. Don’t let them have that power over you. The people who love you will support you through every phase.
Embrace the changes.
Embrace the journey.
Embrace the new you.
Then kick some ass, especially the ones who judge you. That’s when you know you’re doing something right.