My Best Self: An Update, or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Accept I’m Not Published

Photo credit: Jess Pac, CC BY 2.0.

At the end of last year, I wrote that 2016 would be the year in which I’d get my first book published. Did this happen? Absolutely not! Am I bummed? I was, for many months. But you know what? I’m giving myself a big old pass on 2016. I don’t intend to make excuses for not accomplishing the goal I set for myself — and besides, it’s not as if I didn’t try: I did accomplish some of the steps along the way. I do, however, see now that such a goal was wildly ambitious, and I have had to accept that there was no way I could foresee the s**tstorm that 2016 would turn out to be for me.

2016 Is My Year to Get My First Book Published

I wrote last year that I wanted to finish and publish my memoir about 2015, the exciting year during which I began playing roller derby. Roller derby came into my life during a time when I truly needed it: I’d transitioned out of an apartment I could no longer afford after my boyfriend and I broke up, and into a new, and much better, job. I was beginning to sour on my current city of Chicago, where I was about to face a cab driver who had sexually harassed me in court. Chicago reminded me of my failed relationship. It never let me forget how street harassment spikes when you’re a woman walking city streets alone—and how, when you’re walking next to a man, other men stop harassing you only because they see you as claimed property.

Chicago reminded me of my failed relationship.

I was fed up with a lot of things, and roller derby gave me an outlet for that frustration. It made me strong, and it made me feel powerful. The women I skated and trained with in Chicago became my adopted family when I needed them most. But as much as I loved them, I knew my time in Chicago was coming to a close, and so halfway through 2015, I moved to my new city.

And that’s when my book became significantly less interesting, which I didn’t realize until I was trying to write about it at the beginning of this year. My biggest mistake in making a plan to publish my book in 2016 was the fact that I hadn’t finished living it, let alone writing it, by the the time this year began.

I hadn’t finished living the story I wanted to write.

I started writing my book after I moved, while I waited for the next roller derby rec league orientation date to roll around. When it did, I got incredibly discouraged. I’d learned things differently in Chicago, and I felt like I was doing everything wrong. Everyone was helpful in correcting me, but I never felt as welcome among these new-to-me skaters as I had felt with my derby team in Chicago. The fault of most of this was on me, and my fear of reaching out and trying to connect. A lot of my reluctance was founded in insecurity and anxiety, but I never got past those things. I stopped going to practice. I stopped skating. I stopped doing a lot of things I loved, and it took a while to figure out that it was because I was suffering from depression.

Despite that, I still managed to write my book. I didn’t do much else for the first three months of 2016. I documented, in a series of essays, everything that had happened in the year before: I wrote about learning to skate, as well as the aftermath of my breakup and why I’d decided to leave Chicago. My story was taking a different direction, and while I still felt like there was a book there, I knew the ending was lackluster and anti-climactic. In the spring, as I’d planned to do in my Best Self piece, I sent a copy of my first draft to Liz Galvao, an incredible editor in Los Angeles.

Right then is about when I unexpectedly ended up in the hospital, where I stayed for nearly two weeks.

The Cost of an Unexpected Medical Crisis

While in the hospital, I decided I didn’t want to live in Portland anymore. My reset button in my new city hadn’t gone as planned, and I could tell my mental wellbeing couldn’t handle being in Portland for another sunshine-deprived winter. But the city is gorgeous in the summer, and so I made plans to move back to Columbus in the fall, about four months after I fully recovered. I didn’t bother going back to roller derby practice. I’d been out of shape and off skates since the spring.

Then I found myself in the parking lot of the local roller rink one more time. My good Portland friend Samantha had her birthday party at Oaks Park the first week of October. It had been months since I’d skated and I’d already packed my own set, since I was about to move back to Ohio. But I love Sam, and there was no way I was going to say anything to make her sorry she’d wanted to go skating on her own birthday.

I’m glad I went, for a lot of reasons—and I’m looking forward more and more to getting involved with the Columbus league after I’m settled.

I didn’t publish a book this year. However, I wrote a really solid first draft, and with the help of Liz’s edits and helpful notes, I have the framework and structure in place for a much better second draft. Even though I haven’t been reaching out to publishers or agents like I planned, I’ve been writing this whole time. It sucked to be depressed in the Pacific Northwest, but this was my most productive writing year ever. In 2016, I wrote for a dozen different publications, averaged a byline a week, and I’ve had two essays published in literary magazines, all outside of the hours spent doing my day job. I keep generating new material for my book, even if it’s not yet in book form.

I didn’t publish a book this year. But I kept writing.

2016 wasn’t the year for me to get my book published, and 2017 probably won’t be, either. Instead, next year, I’m going to make myself live life about ten times more than I did in 2016, and allow those experiences to turn into material. That means it’s time to swallow my pride, lace up my skates, and get back on the track.

Meryl Williams is an Ohio-based writer who is chronicling her life as a roller derby girl via her awesome TinyLetter. She loves Rilo Kiley and most cheeses.

This article is an update to The Billfold’s 2015 end-of-year series, “Our Best Selves in the Coming Year.”

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