I glanced at my phone and saw it was my agent calling. I wasn’t sure if I should answer.
A few days earlier I had published an article in the LA Times. It was the first thing I had ever written in what I would call “my own voice.”
Over the last couple of decades, I have worked as a TV writer, primarily for half hour sitcoms, and my original plan for the article was to write about sexual harassment in the TV business. But as I’d started to write, I’d realized that the piece wasn’t actually about sexual harassment. Instead, it was about how I had learned to censor myself in myriad ways in order to please my mostly male bosses. I censored my thoughts, my stories, my feelings and especially “my truths.” The Times ran it with the headline: “Know What’s Not Funny?” and they put it on the cover of the Calendar section.
In the days that followed, many women reached out to me. Some were friends and some were strangers. But universally they said some version of this: This is exactly my experience. This is how I feel. Thank you for putting it into words. One woman actually contacted me and asked if I would be willing to speak at her group’s fundraiser, which was coming up in a few months.
So it was validating. I had trusted myself and written something in my own voice…and it had resonated for people.
But now my agent was calling, and I wasn’t sure how he would react. Secretly I hoped he would be proud of me. But I also worried: Would he be angry? Would he be dismissive? Would he think I was burning my bridges?
I braced myself, then I picked up the phone. “You don’t write anything for five years and this is what you write?” he said.
“Uhh…I…” If I was writing this scene for a TV show, the character would have had the perfect comeback. In real life, I stuttered and fought the impulse to cry.
The truth is I have actually written a lot in the last five years. I was on the staff of the “Soul Man” which starred Cedric the Entertainer and Niecy Nash. I co-wrote a pilot with my friend Gina Fattore, which I think is one of the best things I’ve ever written.
And, oh yeah, I also wrote a four hundred page novel…all of it in “my own voice.” My plan is to start sending it out soon in the hopes of getting it published.
But my agent’s comment tapped into all my biggest fears. “You don’t write anything for five years and this is what you write?” Because, yes, I knew I had been writing, pretty much nonstop for these past five years. And that was actually what was so scary. What if all that time and energy I’d put into writing my book turned out to be a waste?
What if nobody wanted to publish it?
What if nobody wanted to read it?
What if it wasn’t any good?
What if, after all my writing and rewriting, five years worth, I had to admit I couldn’t do it?
Isn’t that why I had never written a novel before?
Because I was afraid of failing?
I gave up so much to do this. I gave up paying work. I gave up health insurance. I gave up the camaraderie of working on a TV staff. When I hit a creative wall, there was no room full of writers to help me figure it out. What if I totally embarrassed myself?
I’m the kind of person who can’t go to a gym class till I lose weight. I realize that might sound counter intuitive. But I want to be confident going in. I am this way about everything. If I can’t do it well, I don’t want to be there. I don’t want to trip in front of people. I protect my image at all costs. I censor myself. Or at least I used to.
“You don’t write anything for five years and this is what you write?”
I reminded myself about the piece in The Times. I had trusted myself and written something in my own voice…and it had meant something…not just to other people. It had meant something to me.
I returned to the phone and calmly reminded my agent about my novel.
“Oh yeah. I remember now. Okay, well, send it to me.”
“I will,” I promised. “I’ll send it to you soon.”
“You don’t write anything for five years and this is what you write?” Actually, yes, this is what I write. Or at least this is what I’m trying to write now…what’s real to me…My thoughts, my stories, my feelings and especially “my truths.” It’s certainly not easy or comfortable. After all, I’ve been censoring myself for a lot of years. But people are finally listening to women, so it’s time to give it a shot.