It's OK to Talk About Yourself

There's no shame in hyping your accomplishments. In fact, it might just give you the special boost you need right now.

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Recently, waiting for a train, I passed the time texting with a friend who had just signed a pretty major book deal. I congratulated her with all the enthusiasm emojis could convey. She thanked me briefly and then followed up with an unrelated question about a trip I had planned, excited to hear about my travels. I called her out for deflecting––what is a vacation compared to a book deal, after all? "OMG DRAG ME," came her reply.

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I'm most comfortable as a cheerleader for other people's words. But this is no way to be as a writer myself.

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My friend's outsize talents aside, I recognized myself in her deflection. I work as a book publicist, which means I make my living trumpeting the achievements of others. In my spare time, I also edit an online poetry magazine, Powder Keg, where I shine a spotlight on emerging and established poets. I'm most comfortable as a cheerleader for other people's words, it turns out. But this is no way to be as a writer myself. Now that my first poetry collection is being published, I can't help feeling the familiar dread of self-indulgence, the desire to deflect.

Turns out, there's another writer Sarah Grimm, who happens to pen steamy romances…

There is a solitude at either end of a book: the privacy required for writing it in the first place, and the intimacy established as one reader at a time turns your pages. But the publishing process asks us to abandon these rooms of our own for a turn at exposure and even self-promotion. When my book, Soft Focus, first became available for purchase, I instagrammed its cover with the caption "impostor syndrome" and layered two other photos behind it––one of a book that happened to have the same title, and another of a book by a romance novelist with my name.

Someone congratulates me on my book, and I correct them. Whose expectations am I managing?

The joke is, Soft Focus has been written before, and there's already a Sarah Grimm out there. The joke on me is, I'm not sure I even know how to talk about my poems without minimizing them. Someone congratulates me on my book, and I correct them: "Oh, it's just a little thing." Whose expectations am I managing?

Reading your work in public seems fun, then gets kind of scary, then gets fun again. Photo courtesy of Knife for Books

Thankfully, books don't materialize in vacuums, and publishing even a short collection has been one big lesson in gratitude. National Poetry Month coincides with Passover, a holiday that reminds us to appreciate process as much as we appreciate outcomes with the Hebrew phrase "dayenu," meaning "it would have been enough." An editor selected my manuscript from a heap of submissions and tirelessly shaped it into the object it now is: dayenu. Poets I deeply admire offered insightful blurbs and sharp alleyways into my text: dayenu. And if a single reader lifts a single page: dayenu.

I'm buoyed, trying to accept this strange new good with less embarrassment. Drag me.

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