Why Not Me?
A Diverse Author’s Fight Against Self-Doubt
In my case, writing books wasn’t something I thought I could ever do.
Growing up in Canada, I spent countless hours surrounded by books in my local library. But my future turned out to be studying and graduating with a bachelor’s degree in accounting years later. Not your typical path to becoming a traditionally-published author.
Motherhood changed everything for me.
Of course, I wanted to pass down my love of reading. Going to the library, especially during summer breaks, was usually met with cheers. It wasn’t until one of my kids asked why the library had no children’s stories featuring Black American Muslim main characters that everything shifted.
I didn’t have an explanation.
In 2012, my new year’s resolution was to complete a first draft of an idea I had for a novel. It was a middle grade fantasy and took me nine months to complete. And it was terrible. I didn’t know anything about character development or world building.
So, I didn’t do any of it.
Fortunately, my take away was that I could actually finish a manuscript draft. And Alhamdulilah, that’s what stuck with me. At this point, ignoring my lingering self-doubt allowed me to push forward.
I approached learning the craft of writing like a job. I took classes, attended a few conferences, and joined a writing group. By 2017, I had amassed a three picture book series and a coming-of-age young adult manuscript that were all well received but still didn’t result in any agent offers of representation.
My self-doubt awoke and was my constant companion, whispering to me to give up on the dream of traditional publishing. Maybe the YA stories I wanted to tell featuring Black American Muslim teens would never find publishing professionals that believed in them. Maybe all the time I spent learning this new skill was just a huge waste of time. Random passive aggressive comments from one or two fellow authors made it worse. But my family, my faith, and my writing friends all encouraged me to keep going.
The result was my second, contemporary young adult manuscript.
It was 2018 and I paid a sensitivity reader to give me an honest critique of this project. Based on the feedback, I took the bold step to rewrite the entire thing. Staring at a blank screen was terrifying but I did it anyway. This process took me into 2019 but I had a much better manuscript. After six months of revising, I steeled myself and dipped a toe into the query trenches.
I pitched this new Contemporary YA project in the Oct 2019 DVpit and the Dec 2019 PitMad. My Tweet was very popular at both events—and got the attention of my now agent, Kristina Perez. By February 2020, I had signed with Kristina.
Next, came my manuscript revisions. For exactly 365 days, my self-doubt was well fed.
I fought the negativity inside my head and persevered.
My manuscript was on submission from Feb. 2021 to Dec. 14, 2021. During that time, I distracted myself but many times my thoughts turned sour. An email on Wed, Dec. 15th surprised me. It was an offer from an actual editor. After several conversations with my agent, to keep this secret and my sanity, I started a submission journal.
Whenever my self-doubt overwhelmed me, I’d jot it down. Every irrational fear and crazy thought filled the pages. In early 2022, after the two-book deal contract was negotiated and then landed in my email, I wrote this last entry in the journal.
“InshaALLAH, my imposter syndrome will go away for a while and I can and will enjoy this moment.”
As I work on other manuscripts, that personal goal of mine is still a work-in-progress.
Author of FATIMA TATE TAKES THE CAKE, her debut Contemporary YA novel is out now. A second YA novel is due out in 2024, both from Holiday House.
Headshot photo credit: Khadija Chudnoff