As my July 2016 publication date nears, I’ve been trying my best to practice mindfulness. It’s easy to live for marking off dates on the calendar. I’ve been guilty of this, my mind leaping over Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years to my publication date, July 2016, despite being immersed in a second novel. It’s hard to be still when my dream is about to come true in a matter of months. Worse, I’m on Twitter and Facebook everyday where there are countless posts about whose novel is doing what. Although social media is a great way to market yourself as a writer, it can be detrimental too. For every update about what other writers are writing, doing, and saying can incite anxiety. For example, in October when a friend told me to tune into a Jamaican radio station to hear them discuss the new Man Booker prize winner, I thought nothing of it until the journalist probed, “How can we make sure that Jamaica produces another Man Booker Prize winner?” A feeling of dread shot through me. So now they’re going to treat literature like the Olympics? I stared at my computer screen—at my newly written chapters, and deleted them.
My anxiety persisted until later that month when I happened to share a table with award winning author, Dolen Perkins-Valdez of the New York Times Bestselling novel, Wench, at the Hurston/Wright Legacy Awards in DC—a prestigious gala that annually awards black writers for literary excellence. “Take it all in,” said Dolen, who has been a great mentor to me, squeezing the message into my shoulder when I shared with her my angst. “This is the happiest you’ll ever be. The process leading up to the publication of your first book is special. So take it all in. Remember it. Enjoy it. Don’t concern yourself with anyone else.”
Surely, it’s only human to have such anxiety. I call it “good anxiety”. I think about new mothers (which I hope to be someday) and their continuous stroking of their bellies where their hopes and dreams stir inside with every movement of a fetus that will need nine months to grow before it takes its first independent breath. A book is like a baby. It takes time to write and time to get out into the world. I used to think that books just get put on bookshelves after you write it. But what I am learning is that such belief is analogous to a child thinking a baby was delivered overnight on a doorstep. And just like parents feel the world will be much better, brighter, with the joyous miracle about to be born, a writer feels the same about a first novel.
I made a mental note to do as Dolen said, enjoy my process. After all, she is right. This is my first book of many that will come; my first time walking into the Norton/Liveright building where I felt like a movie star; my first time being one of two writers invited to a publisher’s dinner with sales reps from all over the country who all gushed about my novel and who wanted to learn more about me; my first time being given a publicist whose name has appeared in acknowledgments of my favorite writers. I am, as Errol Dunkley would sing, a black Cinderella, I thought. This moment right here, might have a timer on it. So, why am I wasting time being anxious? Why am I stifling my creativity by listening to others talk about books that are already out there in the world? Why am I not trusting and reveling in my own journey? Why am I not working the ballroom floor in my jeweled gown like it’s about to be midnight and I have one last dance?
So in the month of November, I will enjoy the harvest: I will spend my time writing new chapters and yes, making a grocery list for Thanksgiving. I will turn off Twitter and Facebook (except when I want to post something). I will spend more time with my wife, talking about other things besides my book. I will mark down other events on my calendar like birthdays and readings and anniversaries. I will meet up with friends outside of the writing world and enjoy their company. I will spend time nurturing my students. I will read the books of my favorite authors and remember a time when I didn’t concern myself with their tweets or blurbs.
Lastly, I am reminded again of that scene in The Alchemist when the protagonist was tested. He was told to carry something on a spoon through a beautiful garden to get to where he wanted to be. But while he concentrated hard on making sure the content of the spoon didn’t spill on his way, he made the biggest mistake—he missed the beauty around him. I want to be able to see the beauty around me now and savor it while I’m on my way to my destination.