Because if I'm being honest, I have a lot of very mixed feelings about TRANSPARENT.
But let's start way back in my life. Put simply, I was bullied. The reasons weren't always clear to me as a child. Sometimes it seemed to do with my being Mormon. Sometimes it was that I was smart. Sometimes it was that I wore my aunt's hand-me-downs and looked poor and scraggly. At one point it was because I liked a certain guy. Whatever the reasons, the message I got very early on from people was that I wasn't good enough. I was lesser. And because of that I didn't deserve friendship or kindness.
It hurt. I couldn't show that it hurt, of course, so I had to over compensate. I worked harder in school and became smarter. I poured myself into the few things I did feel like I was good at. I held on to my few friends with a death grip (though they always eventually left or I moved or whatnot). I acted like the toughest, strongest person I could in hopes that no one else would hurt me.
But I was already damaged. Nothing I did was ever good enough. If I didn't get the top score, I was humiliated. If I didn't get the award, it was proof that I still wasn't enough. I was second best. Below. Lesser.
This feeling was so intense that I couldn't even participate in sports. Losing made me feel more horrible than you can imagine—out of control, irrationally horrible. I had nothing resembling sportsmanship, and I was incapable of having fun doing something that could result in my losing. Thus, even though I was a pretty active child, I ended up gravitating to the arts. No clear cut winners or losers, for the most part. It was easier on my damaged mind to remind myself that the art show or essay contest was subjective.
All this to say I had a pretty healthy, if not thriving, inferiority complex growing up.
And every time I wasn't the best—which was often because of course you're not always the best—I fed that complex. "See? Second again. Never first. You will always be below. Why even bother trying?"
I stopped really trying. Not that I was failing classes, but by high school I never put my all into anything anymore. It was easier that way. Then I could say I didn't do my best, so of course I didn't win. I still did well. I even enjoyed with great humor that I was #29 in the top 30 of my class. That was me—the bottom of the overachievers. Good, but not good enough.
I'm not sure I ever really got over my inferiority complex, but it did lessen in college when I was on a bigger campus and it felt like everyone had their own thing. And it lessened again when I met my husband, who loved me so completely and unconditionally that I'd never felt like a more worthy human being. And once again when I had my first baby, and I marveled at what my body, which I had always taken for subpar, was capable of. I felt powerful after that. I really did.
I'm guessing that's why I started writing in earnest again after that. I'd stopped writing stories when I was 15, after a friend of mine read my stuff and gave me a look I knew said, "How do I put it nicely that I didn't like it?" Yes, it hurt so much I didn't try to write creatively until I was 22.
But I did start again, determined this time to keep going because it had always been a dream of mine since I was a little girl. I thought it was only fair to give that dream a try.
It all started out okay. I was stuck in my habits of not really trying, but I was learning and improving every day. And what was even cooler? The MORE I tried, the MORE success I saw. I think it was one of the first experiences in a long time where I saw marked improvement when I put in effort. Each book I wrote got better, and in turn got me more requests, which eventually led to an agent and being on sub.
Everything up to that point was kind of like healing for me. If I put in the work, I saw that I would get results. Maybe I wasn't the best, but I was getting better and maybe I could get there eventually.
Then 2010 happened. TRANSPARENT happened. I started writing the book in 2009, and I was determined to make this thing super, SUPER clean so my poor agent didn't have to go through so many revisions like he had to for my book on sub. Honestly, I probably fell into my over compensating ways again (aka: perfect way to set yourself up for failure). I went through at least four rounds of beta readers. I even asked a writer whom I greatly admired to read my work for the first time, and she agreed. I printed it out, went line by line. I read it out loud. I did absolutely everything in my power to make this book "perfect." I tried. Really, truly tried.
And my agent told me it should be completely rewritten.
I was devastated. Shocked. You mean all that work I did? It was that bad? My full effort still led to a complete failure?
Not to mention this all happened while my other book was failing on sub. TRANSPARENT was supposed to be my back up book, the one I could switch to quickly if my other book died. Now it was the book that was so bad I didn't even have a safety net. And worse, if it was that flawed, then surely all my other books were even WORSE. I felt like I had nothing. Was nothing. And back came the inferiority complex with a vengeance.
For reasons I still can't quite pin down, I did decide to rewrite TRANSPARENT completely, to the extent that at least 95% of the book was new words. I think maybe I felt like I couldn't write something new, because I'd probably just screw that up. I was obviously incapable of writing anything decent on my own (this is what my complex told me, at least).
Well, every page was...kind of torture. Each moment of rewriting that book was a reminder of my failure, of my inferiority. That year I watched friends debut while my book on sub finally bit the dust, thus cementing my failure more. I watched writers get agents, sell their books, AND come out in the time I was on sub. I had to say goodbye to my agent, who surely had to leave the business because he didn't sell my book and it was ALL MY FAULT FOR SUCKING SO MUCH. Literally the only thing that kept me going were my friends Kiersten White and Kasie West, who read each chapter as I wrote it and professed that it was really good, better than before.
I didn't believe them, but I knew I was messed up enough that I had absolutely no gauge of my own ability. All I could see was how horrible I was. How inferior. But I had to finish the "stupid book" because I had absolutely nothing to sub and a new agent waiting on me.
Well, this is epically long, so I'll cut the part where I had to go on medication for anxiety and depression. But it did get that bad. My inferiority complex almost consumed me whole, and I'm still healing from it.
So, truth be told, every time I get a crit for TRANSPARENT I have a panic attack. I have to fight these overwhelming feelings of pain and loss and inferiority. And yet at the same time, somewhere in all this I do know the book is good. I mean, it did sell, for goodness gracious! The work I did, like all the work I did before, ultimately paid off.
But it's still so very muddled. Even though I've had very positive feedback from my editor and from new readers, I still struggle seeing the book or myself as a writer as having merit. Heck, I can't even call myself an author and I don't know if I'll ever be able to. I find myself reading into things to MAKE them sound like others think the book is inferior, too. Sometimes, I'm so scared for this book to come out that I wish I never did this. Or I decide not to have a launch party. I just want to hide, hide, hide and not give anyone else the chance to decide I'm a loser and a horrible writer. I'm pretty good at doing that to myself.
I've been fighting back, baby step by tiny baby step. I know I can find the strength I once had again, hence the need for a Philosophical Journey. Writing hasn't been very easy since all this went down, but I have been writing. And you know what? Writing has been healing. Writing SIDEKICK in particular was my first step on the path back out of this.
I still have a lot of steps to go, but my goal is to be able to stand up at my launch and honestly say that I'm proud of TRANSPARENT, that it's a good book I love. I have like a year and a half to do that, and I think it can be done.
I guess today I wanted to tell you this because people often say bullying isn't that big of an issue. Well, I'm not proud of it, but I've dealt with the repercussions of others' cruel words my whole life. It did shape part of the way I see myself, and I have to fight to change that perception constantly.
Also, people always say you have to be a tough person to be a writer. Clearly, I'm not so tough. I cry a lot. You don't have to be tough to be a writer or any kind of successful person—you have to have endurance. In Japanese they say "Seven times down, eight times up," meaning you always get back up no matter how many times you get knocked down. You can't be so tough you won't get knocked down sometimes. Getting back up is what matters.