Guest Post: Nicole Bea on Finding Your Author Identity
When I first started writing, I thought I had everything figured out. I was planning on crafting short stories and romance on Wattpad, hoping some day my desire to create serial fiction online would turn into more than just a fleeting hobby. Soon though, not long after I posted my first collection of micro-fiction, I started penning young adult work in the contemporary and near-historical spheres.
For a second time, I was certain I had figured out where I belonged in the writing community: composing stories about mental health, relationships, family, and so many teenage firsts.
I wrote young adult exclusively for about a year when I realized that I was missing something. Some variety, some exposure to something new, a connection to the voice that I was trying so hard to project. Over the next year, I wrote middle grade, I mocked up a picture book, I tested my hand back at my Wattpad roots. I crafted essays, poetry, and more short stories than I could possibly count. Then, I participated in NaNoWriMo with a full-length project for the first time. I told myself I was going to work on something new—something different than young adult. I wanted to expand my horizons and write something a bit lighter. So, I set out to craft a story that reflected more of what I wanted to see in the video gaming industry at the time—romance.
I pieced together the first draft of BENEATH THE STARLIT SEA, a new adult fantasy romance with historical elements (lightly based off the romance between Geralt and Yennefer in The Witcher), in thirty days, ending NaNoWriMo at just over 50,000 words. And, while I was writing it, I discovered that it no longer felt like work, but rather felt like I was having fun and exploring a creative side of myself that I hadn’t had a chance to do before.
But I was a young adult contemporary author, not a fantasy one. Therefore, BENEATH THE STARLIT SEA sat in my drafts folder for a little bit, while I convinced myself that I wasn’t a good enough writer to be working on a fantasy novel. That I wasn’t creative enough, wasn’t clever enough, wasn’t a whole lot of things.
Little did I know, that was the moment that would lead me into a journey of finding myself as an author, and maybe a little bit as a person as well. Because once I got brave and submitted the book to a few publishers in aims of maybe getting some feedback, and then when the story got picked up by Sword & Silk in the midst of the pandemic, I found that I wanted to write more books like BENEATH THE STARLIT SEA. That I wanted to have fun while writing, that I didn’t want it to be this grueling process of work and struggle and putting all of my life out on a page for someone to judge whether or not it made a good story. That I wanted to continue to be brave and share my imagination, even though in some ways it was scarier than sharing fictionalized tales from my actual life.
I didn’t want to be perceived, so to speak. On top of that, I didn’t want to be seen as failing in a new genre when I had barely made a dent in the first one.
It took time and many patient conversations with friends, along with the cheers of my beta readers, before I decided to make the change toward writing fantasy and paranormal romances on an ongoing basis. I feel as if it was a big move for me personally, because I had gotten somewhat comfortable in the short, young adult books that I had previously been writing. But they weren’t taking off, they weren’t hitting big numbers of readers on Wattpad or other serial fiction platforms, and they didn’t feel as if I’d really put my heart out on a page for readers in the way I saw other writers talk about doing with their novels. Most of the time I just wanted to write and write and write and publish things fast—not that I didn’t care about the quality or the product, but the depth wasn’t where I wanted it to be.
But when I wrote BENEATH THE STARLIT SEA, that book took up my whole heart for thirty days; all my tears, all my successes, all my love for the characters and the story.
Even though it wasn’t what I was ‘supposed to be writing’ overall, I think, at that moment, it was the ‘right thing to be writing’. And because of that, I uncovered a whole side to my storytelling that I didn’t think I possessed. That I was absolutely creative enough, clever enough, and a whole lot of other things—all the things I wanted to be in order to write this book and have it make its way out into the world.
With BENEATH THE STARLIT SEA, I found myself as an author for a third time. But, as the saying goes, the third time’s a charm. I was testing the waters of writing steamy scenes, crafting books for adults, and trying to balance the art of storytelling with the skill of meeting structural preferences and word counts for publishers. And suddenly, instead of it all being overwhelming, it all became thrilling again. I began to have a brand for lush locations, hot love interests, and spicy… spice.
All of this is to say that finding your author identity isn’t something that happens overnight. Or, for some, maybe it does. Maybe the first thing you try to write will be the book and the voice of your heart. However, do not be discouraged, dear author. Test the waters, try new things, make connections, and most of all, don’t forget that you’re doing this for a reason—whatever that reason may be.
And, even if you don’t have everything figured out when you start, you’ll get there. You’ll find where you’re meant to be, even if you have to take a few detours to get there.