“But would it be a real book?” I said, more to myself than to Ian as I weighed possible options in my mind. I’d spent some time that day investigating a self-publishing option through Amazon that would allow me to take the Word document that I’ve become rather emotionally attached to and transform it into a book available for purchase on Amazon in both Kindle and paperback.
But would it be real?
“I want a real book,” I told my husband. Just like Geppetto wanted the Blue Fairy to transform his little wooden puppet into a real boy, I wanted her to work her blue magic and bippity boppity boo my manuscript into a real book. Only, unlike Geppetto, what I was really after wasn’t life but legitamicy.
When I first started blogging I’d hoped I might be able to force some of my Facebook friends to read it by shoving the posts into their feed. I’d hoped maybe a random person I’d never met or two might stroll on over and say hello. But that was it, really.
Then, I had a post get some traction and I told Ian, “I might be able to make it to 500 followers if this keeps up!” I was almost afraid to say it out loud just in case it jinxed it (or at the very least gave me false hope).
I made it to 500. And then I felt like I might feel like a successful, legitimized blogger if I were to make it to 1,000 followers. And then that happened, too. So then I thought I’d finally truly feel like I’d made it if I could only reach 2,000.
Well, now I have nearly 10,000 followers and I still find myself feeling like I’m praying to the Blue Fairy. What I crave isn’t numbers or popularity, even though that’s probably what it sounds like; I just want to feel like I’m the real deal. I want to be real. Not famous, but legitimate. I feel like a poser. I feel like the kid who snuck in with a fake ID and is afraid they’re going to get caught. I want someone to tell me that I can relax because I’m old enough to drink, so no ones going to be kicking me out of the bar or calling my folks because I’m old enough to be here. I’m legitimate. I belong.
I looked up to the regular contributors to Huffington Post. They were my blogging idols. I thought that if I were ever, someday way off in the future, to reach the point of being a Huffington Post contributor that I’d finally feel as if I’d made it. Not only would I be a blogger, I’d be a real writer.
And then earlier this year I got an email from Arianna Huffington, herself. She’d liked a piece I’d pitched to her. I ran around the apartment screaming about how the Huffington had emailed me. I ran around screaming about how she’d said I was going to be a regular contributor.
But Arianna Huffington was not my Blue Fairy.
I now have a nifty little writer profile on the Huffington Post. But I still find myself saying how I’m really “just a blogger” — as opposed to something that feels like it might be a bit more credible like a freelance writer or journalist or author or poet.
I want to call myself a blogger without adding a qualifier.
I want to call myself a freelance writer.
I want to call myself a writer.
I want to call myself a memoirst.
I want to call myself a poet.
And very secretly, I want to call myself an artist.
But this horrible question of But am I a real one? keeps getting in the way.
I suppose it doesn’t help that I’ve spent too much time hanging around the fringes of academia, feeling inadequate because I don’t have a Master’s in creative writing. I worked for several years as an English tutor at a community college. I worked closely with members of the English department, and after a while it started to feel like I was part of a select few who didn’t have a Master’s degree in English. By the time I left that job I felt as if I was failing at life because I hadn’t earned a Master’s in English; the lone illegitimate one. But when I finally asked myself if a Master’s in English was even something I wanted, the answer was decidedly no.
I suppose it also doesn’t help that I spent too much time growing up around published authors. Or, as they liked to put it, “traditionally published authors.” They looked down on self-published authors because, unlike them, they weren’t the genuine article. Not all “traditionally published authors” are like this. I’ve known quite a few who weren’t. And I’ve known quite a few who were.
Seeing books published by my mother or family friends on the display table at Barnes and Nobel wasn’t a big deal. It was just a part of life. Sure, it was pretty cool I guess. But I honestly couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about. That was just mom and dad’s friend, so what?
But now the words traditionally published author hang in the air, haunting me. I’d like to write a book. I have more than one partly-written manuscript gathering dust in Word documents. I’m just not sure how exactly to transform them from manuscripts to books.
Sometimes I wonder if I’d prefer self-publishing via Amazon so I could maintain complete creative control (even though, yes, I might not make a cent). When I can silence the voices chanting traditionally published author and when I can silence my questions of Would it be a real book? Would I be a real author? it seems like it has the possibility at least of being a good fit for me.
But then I worry that it might not be enough to just see a book with my name on it on Amazon. I still might not have finally found the Blue Fairy. My book might not be real. And worst of all, after all the work and emotional energy I might still not be real.
I could go the traditional route. Maybe I could get an agent’s attention. And if so, maybe I’d be able to get a publishing house’s attention. And then I wonder if this, if this, would be my Blue Fairy.
I asked author and artist Mandy Steward how she managed to claim the word artist. A word that sounds so nice to me but has always felt like it applied to people who were more talented, more creative than me and have at least a Master’s tucked away in their back pocket. She wrote a blog post in response to my question, and this is what struck me the hardest:
In the next couple years [after the publication of my book] I went through another detour because my book didn’t “make it” like I had believed it would. So on the tails of my spiritual crisis I had an artist crisis as well. What if I’m not as great as I think? What if I gained creative control of my life and now can’t do anything with it? What if I now lost everything – my faith and my artistic dreams? This was my darkest hour yet and I don’t think I’ll ever hit that low again.
She did it. She’s a traditionally published author. She’s an artist with people like me following her, looking up to her, and hoping her creative and messy ways rub off on us a little. In my book, she’d become BFFs with the teasingly elusive Blue Fairy. But becoming a traditionally published author didn’t ward off fears of failure. It didn’t make her stop wondering if she was real.
And somehow thanks to Mandy’s response I realized that I’m never going to find the Blue Fairy. Maybe she’s just the stuff of stories. But that’s okay. I don’t think I really need her anyway.
Last year I decided to stop waiting for the day that I’d believe other people when they told me that I was beautiful. That I’d stop waiting to believe my husband. And, instead, I started telling myself. I look at myself in the mirror in the morning and I say to myself, “My you’re looking beautiful today.” At first the word felt uncomfortable, foreign, and even untrue. Sometimes I felt like I was lying to myself. But the more I say it, the more I believe it. It didn’t matter how many times my husband said it, I wasn’t going to believe it until I started saying it for myself.
And I think the same principle applies in my search for legitimacy. There’s always going to be people that are “more successful” than me. So if I determine my identity, my legitimacy, based on readers or compliments or money in the bank or where my book was printed I’m never going to feel real. But I am real, just like I am beautiful.
I’m a writer. A real writer. A new one, yes, but a real one just the same. And I’m going to start telling myself it. I’m going to be my own damn Blue Fairy.
And what about those other lovely words? Freelance writer. Memoirist. Poet. Artist. I’ll get to those, too. But today I’ll start with writer.
What do you need to start calling yourself today?
Aside: I’ve starting sharing poetry on Instagram, so come on over.