First Steps, First Words, First Kisses: What It Means to Be a First-Time Author
In preparation for writing this piece, I Googled what it’s like to be a first-time author. Like any good journalist, I was curious about what others might be saying about this topic before throwing my own voice into the melting pot. But instead of detailed portraits of being a first-time author, I got a lot of articles on very different firsts. From being a first-time mom to a first-time game developer to a first-time Olympian to even being the first lady of the United States.
What I learned by journeying down this very large rabbit hole is that the human experience is often measured in firsts.
First steps, first words, first kisses.
First alcoholic beverages. First heartbreak. First paycheck.
First marriage. First divorce.
First business. First bankruptcy.
First house. First funeral.
The milestones of firsts are endless and often riddled with both pleasure and pain. What it’s like the first time we ride an airplane is chronicled right next to the first time we recognize our bodies are aging. Both of these experiences cause our stomachs to drop at how fast life is moving and advancing right in front of us. In fact, I guarantee almost all of our firsts in life give us a similar sensation—a breath caught in the middle of the throat, our stomach plummeting to the floor.
And yet, once I did finally make it to pieces that are about first-time authors, the material there is lacking in that human quality. There are so many article titles with the words “how to write” or “complete guide,” as if writing a book and becoming an author requires detailed guidebooks and how-to manuals—a transactional, fix-it mentality is all you need to tackle this newfound endeavor. Then there are articles about calculating the odds of getting published or ten mistakes a first-time author makes . . . as if to scare us away from even trying to attempt this faraway dream.
Being a First-Time Author Still Requires Being Human
The reality is writing your first book is a human experience just like all the other firsts. There is pleasure alongside the pain. There is the breathless feeling, the lack of sleep, the overwhelm, the stomach plummeting. And just like all these other firsts, the experience requires you to seek out support, to crave comfort, to necessitate accountability, to beg for belonging . . .
What baffles me is that every time I talk with a writer or a storyteller or an artist I hear the common complaint: they feel “lonely.”
That’s right. Telling your story is a lonely, often isolating experience. It’s just you and the words you are trying to wrestle your way through. When you finally manage to get them out of your heart and formed into a cohesive shape, there are still revisions, proofreading, and the agony of choosing the right publishing option for you (e.g., traditional houses, self-publishing, and everything in between).
The choices are difficult and numerous, and most of us feel like we must make them on our own. A lonely road, indeed.
But humans aren’t meant to live life alone. We are meant to be in relationships with one another, and that includes sharing our passions and pursuits with each other. We deserve to go at it with someone by our side—a tribe of people who understand what our path looks like because they are traveling along it with us.
“Humans aren’t meant to live life alone.”
It’s the same with a lot of our firsts. For example, when I first lost a relative of mine that I really loved, in looking around at the gravesite, it wasn’t hard to soak it all in. The sea of black shawls and suits. The bundles of flowers waving in the wind. The people hugging and crying and leaning into the arms of others. Me pressed into the side of my mother and father, hands clasped.
Or perhaps that is too somber.
Let me bring you into the memory of my first kiss. I’m on the dance floor with a friend, surrounded by so many sweaty young people, the rush of warmth, the music flooding into my body like the blush on my face.
Neither of these firsts were experienced entirely alone. They were relational, and that’s because they were “big” milestones for me. They were hard to process, and they took my breath away. And they challenged me to think about my life story in ways that I hadn’t before.
That’s the exact experience that occurs when you are writing a book for the first time. You are crossing the threshold into becoming a first-time author, and you are experiencing all of these feelings as they rush through you and challenge you to look at yourself in a new light—to consider your identity as a professional storyteller. Maybe that means you think this experience isn’t shared, or maybe you don’t even know where to start. And you might feel like you have to do this enormous new thing on your own . . .
But do you?
A Storytelling Experience That Sees the Human in You
The scariest thing is often showing off a first draft of your book to someone you love. Maybe you’ve experienced this, or maybe you’re dreading it, or maybe you haven’t even thought about this moment, or maybe you have and you’re not worried (yet). When we care about our story, becoming a first-time author feels all the more like a mountain to climb. Showing it off or sharing it out loud for the first time often brings up doubts. What if they think it’s not good, or worse, they are entirely apathetic? What if they look at me differently? What if I must admit defeat—that I’ve failed?
Despite all of these doubts, what if you share your story and are met with an entirely different response? What if you are surrounded by a group of people who have been on the same journey as you, witnessed all of the obstacles you’ve overcome to reach that version of your story, and can relate to how you feel stepping into this new place?
What if you felt seen and heard for the first time?
What if you show off a shadow of your life and aren’t met with judgment but are held as a human being?
What if you are met with praise in the form of true validation for the person you are today and the purpose you are compelled to chase after with revived fire?
What if you are held tenderly in a psychologically safe space as you uncover the book you were born to write?
What if, after this entire storytelling experience, you go up to someone you love, share your story with them, and they hold your gaze and say, “The world was meant to hear this from you”?
Your experience toward becoming a first-time author isn’t lonely or isolated at all. It is how all our firsts should be: a relationship that takes our breath away.