Why your stories keep others going

AKA Why I’m obsessed with Angie Thomas

I was walking in an airport feeling like giving up.

It was about a year ago. I was in year three of a book project I thought would take one year. The research was intense, and everything else in life kept getting in the way of me having the long stretches of uninterrupted time I needed to wrap my head around the million words of research I’d created.

I started to feel like it just wasn’t going to happen.

I started to feel like maybe this book wasn’t in the cards for me.

I started to feel like maybe I really was crazy for thinking I could pull this off.

Then I walked by the airport bookstore. On the front-facing shelf was a book unlike the ones I usually see on the front facing shelves. It was called The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas. It was like a magnet.

Instead of going to my gate, I zig zagged across the crowds on my left to get to the book. I held it in my hands. I breathed it in. I turned it over to see who the author was. That is when I first saw Angie Thomas, and it is when I knew I would keep going.

It’s been a long-time habit of mine to roam airport bookstores and see what is going on in the mainstream book world. I like to know what people are reading, what is selling, what is interesting, and what is working.

A by-product of this little tradition of mine was the small unconscious ache I’d feel when it was hard to find people like me when I turned the books over. The books in the front of the store didn’t always look like the world around me. Didn’t look like my friends.

I would sub-consciously start to wonder if it meant I didn’t belong there, either. Logically I knew that wasn’t the case, but logic doesn’t work so well when it comes to representation.

It’s hard enough to keep going towards big dreams and creative work, no matter who you are, and when you add on these extra sub-conscious layers of “Do people like me do this? Do I belong here? Am I allowed to be here?” it can sometimes be debilitating.

But then there was Angie.

So flipping good at her craft, sharing her voice, and rocking it as an author on the front display. (Her book also became an incredible and highly-rated film). And now she has a second novel out, On the Come Up. This week, BOTH of her books were #1 and #2 on the New York Times Bestseller list.

I’ve been following Angie ever since that day in the airport, and every win she has gives me strength to write another day.

Angie Thomas being on front shelf and the #1 spot of the New York Times has, at least for me, created this space that wasn’t there before. I feel like I can breathe a little deeper in airport bookstores now.

You don’t have to share your story or pursue your craft for anyone else (and just because it’s not on the proverbial front shelf doesn’t mean it isn’t good), but, if you’re like me, and you sometimes wonder if sharing your voice will matter at all, I want you to know, without a doubt, that it will. Maybe it will matter to millions and you’ll be a #1 Something. That is rare, but it does happen.

But even if it isn’t number one, it will matter to someone. There will be at least one person for whom you will be the #1 Person Who Kept Them Going Today.

I’m thankful to Angie for being that person for me on many days, simply by being great at what she does, and sharing her creative voice.

You could be that person for someone else, too. Maybe you already are.

Keep going.

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