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A Letter to My Past Selves in the Days Before the Second Novel Publishes

First, a confession: I’m writing today’s post at 11:36 p.m. because for months now I’ve known that I’d be posting this on March 2, eleven days until my next novel, Everyone Knows You Go Home [1], is published on March 13th, and partly out of procrastination, and partly out of wanting to share something as close to the “eve” of pub day as possible, I left it for the last minute.

It’s hard to know what to write in moments like these because for me, being on the verge of publishing a book is overwhelming. It’s a period full of every possible emotion you can think of, and since you’re feeling them all at once, it’s difficult to pick any specific one with any semblance of clarity or perspective.

Tonight I sat at my desk and logged into my WU account, hoping something, anything, would spring forward. And I remembered one of the first posts I ever wrote here, back when I was invited to guest blog just before my first novel, Chasing the Sun, came out. In June of 2014 I shared a letter to Aspiring-Writer-Me from Debut-Novelist-Me [2], and tonight I thought: Of course. Write another.

Hey, you (dear me?). Let’s go with hey, you.

There are going to be so many moments you remember most about this, and none will be the ones you expect.

The first is a simple drive home from the gym, one afternoon in 2014. That morning you’ll wake up really early and you’ll write a new scene in this book that makes you believe there’s a story here. You’ll go about your day, do some work, go to the gym, and on the way home you’ll take the highway, lower the windows, turn up the music, and feel the purest, most unbelievable joy, just from having written that one scene. You’ll hold onto that for a while. You’ll remind yourself that’s really what this is all about.

The second will be the sound of your mother’s voice on the phone when she tells you she didn’t know until she held the book in her hands that you’d dedicated it to her. She’ll cry, and you’ll cry, and you’ll wish you could write her a whole other one just to say thank you, for everything.

To answer the questions you asked yourself when your first book came out: Will this ever get old? Will I ever become jaded?

Absolutely not and no, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be different. You’ll know what to expect but not how it’ll feel. You’ll have different dreams for this story than you did for the first one. You’ll still be so incredibly grateful but you’ll also have gained confidence and perspective. It’ll make the experience richer, like the difference between a first love and a love strengthened by time and trust.

You’ll know things you didn’t know for the first book. Use them to stand up for your work in ways your younger self might’ve been too intimidated to do. You’ll also learn a lot of new things: how to ask permission to use another writer’s words in your epigraph. That a book jacket can have art on it, too, not just the cover! That writing the final scene halfway through a novel can be a powerful tool in helping you finish. That having your agent tell you to cut 12,000 words from the manuscript before it goes on submission can be the greatest blessing in disguise.

Writing the next book will be nothing like writing the previous ones. It is not a lather, rinse, repeat situation. This will be your first time writing this story. It’s not exactly like starting over, but it still starts with a blank page. The blank page doesn’t care that you published another book. The blank page has different plans, different structure, even a different writing routine. The most valuable thing you’ll pull from previous experience is the simple trust that you’ve done it before. You’ll recognize all the usual players: the self-doubt, the inner editor that won’t quit, the days when you just can’t imagine writing a single word. At least you’ll be able to say, You again…I remember you. You’re terrible but you’re not the end of me. 

You still won’t be great at titles. The title you first come up with, the one attached to your book’s Publisher’s Weekly listing when it sells, won’t be the one that makes it through production (again) and you’ll be glad (again) it didn’t. Thank goodness for editors who see your book, see its heart, and suggest a perfect title.

This will all, once again, seem to take forever and then take no time at all.

You’ll want to do everything for this book and will have to realize you can’t do it all.

The very best thing about all of this will be the friends and community you’ll gain along the way. You’ll find mentors and become one. You’ll try very hard (and fail) to keep your cool when you run into authors you’ve idolized at events. The writers whose first books published the same time yours did—the ones you shared first panels, first book festivals, first everythings with—will forever be your kin.

Through all of it, there will be moments, no matter how many times you do this, when you feel like you have no idea what you’re doing. All you’ll know is that you’re meant to do it.

What would you say to your past self if you had the chance?  


About Natalia Sylvester [3]

Born in Lima, Peru, Natalia Sylvester [4] came to the U.S. at age four. A former magazine editor, Natalia now works as a freelance writer in Austin, Texas and is a faculty member of the low-res MFA program at Regis University. Her articles have appeared in Latina Magazine, Writer’s Digest, The Writer, and NBCLatino.com. She is the author of Chasing the Sun, named the Best Debut Book of 2014 by Latinidad and chosen as a Book of the Month by the National Latino Book Club. Her second novel, Everyone Knows You Go Home, is forthcoming from Little A in 2018.