I was able to submit a completed draft of my novel’s manuscript to a publisher Wednesday night (actually 2 a.m. Thursday morning) for the first time. I’m fully expecting a rejection because that’s how these things often go but it feels good for my work to be in a position to be sent out.
I went through a bit of a “what’s even the point?” crisis starting at the end of May.
It’s difficult to see the value of individual creative endeavors when there are much bigger and more important battles going on just outside the front door, but something that helped me was something an artist I follow on Twitter wrote. They were talking specifically about comparing your work to others but I think it applies to any kind of existential challenge you face creatively: “It’s not about who is ‘better,’ there will always be someone better! It’s about your unique perspective and breadth of experiences you bring to your work. You have a voice for a reason, so use it! Stop defining your worth by the work of others.”
My novel explores themes of trauma, homesickness, self-sacrifice and remorse. Many of my characters are hung up on things in their pasts and they struggle to reconcile with those experiences. They face problems of identity and of accepting the people they have become as a result of those experiences, forcing a distance between them and people they long to connect with. They are torn between their past and present, between their homelands and their adopted homes, between being perceived as monsters (vampires, werewolves, witches) and humans.
Like my characters, my life has been a tightrope walk between two worlds. My family immigrated to the United States from Venezuela when I was very young and as a result I grew up with one foot in two very different cultures, a biracial kid in the rural Midwest where there was nobody with whom I could share my experiences. I never felt like I truly fit in either world, leading to feelings of isolation and despondency. That disjointedness, that fear, often manifests in my work. My characters struggle with their identities, maneuver between what is expected of them and what they want for themselves. Writing my novel has been a way for me to navigate my own trauma and to reflect on the ways that many of us feel uprooted and disconnected in “The Great American Melting Pot,” whether because of race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status or sexuality, and how we see these issues writ large in society and culture with movements like Occupy Wallstreet and Black Lives Matter and the injustices they stand against.
Through my writing, through helping my characters work through their own problems, I am really just making maps for myself, maps that I hope might one day help readers find their own voices and their own strengths.
With that in mind, I’ve felt more comfortable returning to my creative writing practice. What I submitted was Part 1, although I’ve decided it might be better to split it all into three books, so that what I submitted is Book 1 of a series of three. I’m currently about two-thirds done with Book 2. Wherever this journey leads, through however many rejections, I can at least feel like I’ve accomplished something, despite everything.
Johanna Armstrong is the Lifestyle editor for The Daily Journal.