On Coming Out (as a writer)

About a month after my sister moved to college in 2010, she called me and let me know that she was lesbian. I was surprised, but not very surprised, and I thanked her for telling me. It was a while before she had the courage to come out to our parents, especially to my mother, who was a conservative Christian and had bought firmly into everything that implies.

The past few years have been relatively normal for my little sister. Not too much has changed about her. Her coming out has, instead, had a profound effect on our mother. A woman who was used to taking what she heard at face value began to grapple with her faith out of love for my sister.

I am so very proud of her.

But it took me years to do my own kind of coming out.

I’m not gay, but there are plenty of other secrets to keep. Mine, of course, is about my writing. She knows I write: I’ve always written. There’s nothing new about that. She knew about my poetry and the songs I wrote. She obviously knew that I went to an arts high school and got an endorsement in writing, and that I graduated from college with a degree in writing. She even knew that I wrote fanfiction.

But when I got the itch to write a novel, I never told her. That was two years ago. When I started writing, I told myself that I would tell my family when I got an agent. What a surprise that would be, right? “Hey mom, guess what? All this time you thought I wasn’t doing anything with my life, I’ve been writing a book, and now I have an agent. In fact, I’m represented by the very same agent who sold [insert really famous book here]! Isn’t that great?” And she’d order celebratory ice cream cake and we’d all have a good laugh about my secret.

Two years is a long time, though. Even though I knew how long writing a book could take, I didn’t think it would take me, an experienced writer, that long. I’m such an excellent sentence writer, I told myself, that I would hardly even need to edit. And agents would be falling all over each other to rep my book. (You’re sensing the sarcasm, right?)

I learned on my own, no experience required, that querying a rough draft is a bad idea. But no one told me, in November of 2012, how fast dystopians were going out of style. That by the time I felt ready to query, a year and a half later, no one would want one, even if they liked the story. That after almost 6 months of querying, I wouldn’t have much to show for it.

As I get ready to start writing my second novel and shelve my first (at least temporarily), I felt like I needed to tell her. I needed to address the fears I’ve had for years:

  • I’m scared she’ll see too much of herself in my work, or assume that the mother characters were drawn on her (they weren’t).
  • I’m scared she won’t like it and will try to gently persuade me to not pursue my dream.
  • I’m scared she will like it and ask me to care for her in her retirement when I make millions (ha!).
  • I’m scared of explaining the glacial pace to her, and having to field “how’s your novel going” questions every time I see her (which, by the way, is every day, because of daycare arrangements).
  • I’m scared she’ll tell all her friends and I’ll have to field “how’s your novel going” questions from them, too.

It was easy to tell her I wrote fanfiction. I wrote stories about Molly and Arthur Weasley and their descendants, stories that span more than 100 years (or more than 1,000, if you count my distant-descendant-of-Harry-finds-Resurrection-Stone story). I can’t make money off those, and she knows it. I could let her know that I receive upwards of 2,000 hits per month on my stories, and that is AWESOME. And she could agree with me. (even though in the HP fanfiction world, that isn’t much.)

It was easy to tell her that I started a website for freelance editing. After all, I’d been successfully freelancing for three years, even though that work was seasonal. And she’s a small business owner. She had faith in that, and I still have my day job, so it’s not like I’m doing anything too crazy.

Telling her I wrote a novel, though? That I want to be published? That’s hard. Coming out is hard.

I finally did… sort of. I  showed her my last post on my phone, zoomed in to just the cover and the synopsis, website name hidden. “Interesting,” she said in that dismissive voice that probably means “not very interesting.”

“I’m writing it next month,” I said, scrolling up to the URL.

She didn’t say anything else.*

Since I didn’t tell her that I’ve already completed a novel, she didn’t ask to read it, so I still have all my fears to grapple with… we’ll see how that goes when it goes.

Kudos to those of you with the courage to come out.

Here’s to coming out

*It’s only fair to note that we were in between sets at a concert when I finally got the courage to show her the post, so it’s not like we had a ton of time for a heart to heart. And I still haven’t told her about Damaged, my currently on hiatus book that I started two years ago. So I still have room for improvement…


  1. Ha! I like to tell people I’m half-in, half-out of the writer’s closet. If it comes up in conversation (which isn’t super often) I don’t deny it. But it’s not something I volunteer very often. My sister told my mother, so now I get a lot of the “how’s your writing” questions, but I figure that would happen even if I waited until I had an agent or a book published. Because I would continue to write and she would know it.

    I agree that the glacial pace of the publishing world makes it hard for people to understand why revealing your status as a writer doesn’t equate to having a book published within the next year. That can be so frustrating. Good luck getting the rest of the way out of the closet with your mom. =)

    • I’m that half-in, half-out with most people. It’s just my mother that I’m really struggling with.

      Excellent point about how the “how’s your writing” questions will keep coming after the first book. I guess I hadn’t thought of that. :-/

      Thanks for the good luck wishes!

      • =) And isn’t it funny how if our mom’s asked “how’s work” or “how’s the baby” we’d have no problem answering the question? Even though those answers are pretty much the same every day too. What is it about the sensitive knee-jerk reaction to a question about our creative outlet and dream?

        • My mother sees my baby more than I do… but I get your point for sure. The creative part is just so personal I guess. And I’ve had bad luck in the past getting support for creative things. Oh well. I’m writing now, and that’s what matters, right?

  2. I have so much i want to say to this!

    First, i just met Andrew Smith in person and he told us how, even though he’d been writing his whole life, and his family knew this, he didn’t tell them he was going to try getting published. He just went about it quietly. He finally had to tell them when he landed a mega agent (who came to California to sign him) and she sold his first book at auction for a crazy amount of money.

    Second, my family has always known about my writing, but i definitely do experience some of the things you worry about (always asking about my writing (even before i got the book deal) jokes about me being rich (and while, yes, they’re jokes, since i got the big book deal i think there’s more of a kernel of truth in the jokes now) and before i landed my agent, talk about how long it was taking me to land an agent (It took 3 years. But i think it was harder for them because they knew how well i was doing querying)

    So, yeah, i’m sure you’d get that too, but i think it’s a good trade off, to deal with that stuff, but then also have someone who’s there to celebrate the instant anything little happens, like when i got my first full request, when an agent followed me on twitter, when i got that first offer.

    • Andrew Smith’s story sounds like the one I was going for. Maybe not such a good idea…

      My family knows next to nothing about how publishing works (I started CPing a book a year ago, and told them the synopsis, and my mother keeps asking me when /that/ book will come out so she can read it) so sitting down to say “OK, I’m trying to get published, check in with me in three years” would be hard. We’ll see. I might just mention it yet.

      My husband knows and is supportive (if impatient at times–he got more upset than I did when I got my first rejection), so that’s helpful. 🙂

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