What Story Are You Telling Yourself

  • By: Jessica Faust | Date: Aug 10 2021

What story are you telling yourself that is holding you back? Where did that story come from?

My Story

Just about the time I started BookEnds, after having worked in publishing for five years, I ran into an old English teacher of mine. Like any English teacher with a former student in publishing, she cornered me to get all the details about my job.

I talked about working at Berkley, the kinds of books I edited, and generally the joy of my job and NYC. Of course, she wanted to talk about the book she’d written. I don’t remember a whole lot of the conversation. I do, however, remember the one question I’ll never forget. She wanted to know how Adult Me could possibly get a job in publishing when Teen Me was so absolutely terrible with grammar.

I was notorious for getting an A/D on all my papers. A for the writing D for grammar. Please don’t ever ask me to copyedit.

I was kinder than I think I should have been. I explained that copyediting wasn’t my job and then drifted away. I did probably roll my eyes and, well, I probably wasn’t that kind.

Letting Our Stories Define Us

After that incident, I had a choice. I could have let that comment burrow into my head and my soul. I could have let it define me. That comment could have made me believe I wasn’t good enough for this job. I was just a D student so who was I to start and run a business?

Luckily for me, confidence has never been a problem. Instead, I told my mom who, of course, got super mad on my behalf, and we moved on.

But those kinds of stories do define us. The stories others tell and the stories we tell ourselves. It’s on us to decide how.

Identifying Your Stories

What stories are you telling yourself that are holding you back? Are you not submitting to your dream agent because, well, they’re a dream agent? Have you convinced yourself you only write one way and absolutely can’t do things differently?

Did you decide that you can write a manuscript, but not a query? I hear this one a lot.

I see it all the time. I get queries from people who don’t think they should query me. Thank goodness they do. And I represent authors who have decided they can only do one thing–write one genre, write one way, write one type of character–and therefore get stuck. They get stuck in a way that eventually slows and might even stop their career.

When you find yourself telling a story stop and ask yourself if it’s true. Is it really true that as a D student in grammar you can’t be an agent? If it is don’t tell me now.

Is it really true that you’re still a D student all these years later?

A key to success is being able to tell your story the way you want it, not the way you’ve settled for. It’s not easy. It’s not easy to change your entire mindset, but I promise it’s worth it.

5 responses to “What Story Are You Telling Yourself”

  1. Avatar Elizabeth Volkmann says:

    Love this!! Thank you!

  2. Avatar Sandra Pollino says:

    Oh my gosh, thank you for this disclosure. I’ve needed to believe in my writing and to remember it’s my story and I wrote it to share with others. I promised my sweet mother, my first editor, that my book would be published before she left us, sadly my dear mother passed away on the 21st of July. I will not give up, and in her memory, I will share my story as I promised her. She believed in me and loved my story, and she was my toughest critique. I’ve been disappointed by the rejection from my dream agent, but I believe there is an agent out there who will enjoy my story as much as I did writing it and those like my mother who loved it. For you mom and for my fans waiting for the book, I will tell my story. And thank you , Jessica for helping me to believe in my work and to keep going!!!!

    • Avatar Kim Beall says:

      Oh Sandra, I feel your pain: the same thing happened to me! My mother was one of the beta readers for my first book. I knew she preferred darker thriller-type stuff such as Stephen King, but I let her read it anyway just to let her feel included. She carefully restricted her remarks to things like missing commas, because it really wasn’t her sort of book, but she was happy for me anyway when she heard I’d found a publisher! Unfortunately she passed away two months before it came out. I know she would have loved to hold a copy in her hand. I left a copy on her grave (though I hope someone else picked it up and read it!) But we can both know our mothers are driving all our passed relatives and loved ones in heaven crazy with their bragging about us!

  3. Avatar Kim Beall says:

    I just want to say, as a D student in everything except English who got brow-beaten for it for twelve years of her life, I love this post, and thank you!

    (Also: the reason I don’t query my dream agent is because she doesn’t rep what I write. But I think she’d enjoy my stories anyway so maybe I’ll query her next time just so she can read the story! <3 )

  4. Phew! What a perfect message at exactly the right time for me. I’ve been struggling with issues of doubt, skill, ability, and more as I work on a query letter for my debut thriller. Binge-watching Agent Straight Up videos, reading hundreds of examples, stressing. Today’s post helped me sit back, exhale, and remind myself–this isn’t my entire story, it’s only a chapter.
    Thanks so much.