I’m an editor by trade, and that’s where my talents lie. My superpower is my ability to polish any piece of writing until it shines, and I’ve been making a living off that gift for years now. But any editor will tell you that they’re also a writer at heart—and I’m no different.

One of my brightest childhood memories is of entering a writing contest run by Bruce Coville, author of the popular My Teacher Is an Alien series. He put out a call for elementary school–age children to submit their scary short stories, promising to publish the winning entry as a part of his upcoming anthology. I spent a few hours composing a story about a haunted elevator that never lets you off and mailed it that same day in a manila envelope.

Months later, I received a letter from Coville himself, awarding me third place in his contest. He included a personal check for $50 as a prize and told me to keep writing. My story wouldn’t be published, but I was thrilled to have been acknowledged by a bona fide author whose books I loved. I never did let my mother deposit that check for me; I wanted to keep it forever.

Since that foray into fiction writing at the age of 10, I haven’t completed another story of note. It wasn’t for lack of effort. I continued to start new pieces, jot down plot points, emulate my favorite authors. In college, I took a creative writing course and produced a few short stories, but they weren’t anything I was proud of; I honestly can’t even remember what they were about. As a journalism major, I took a lot of other writing courses and wrote a weekly op-ed column for the NYU newspaper. But fiction, it turned out, wasn’t really my thing.

I never consciously questioned why this might be. I chalked it up to lack of imagination. But more recently I’ve come upon a new realization: all this time, I haven’t known whose story I should tell, because I wasn’t sure about my own place in the world of fiction as an Asian American.

In the first half of my life, the category of books written by first-generation Asian American authors was basically nonexistent. For the mainstream reader, there was Amy Tan and that was about it. It wasn’t until later that others began to appear on the scene. It was a revelation when I discovered Jhumpa Lahiri, and she remains one of my favorite authors today. Yes, I appreciated her elegant prose, but also, for the first time, I was connecting with fictional characters, like the Ganguli family in The Namesake, on a deeply intimate level. Their immigrant story mirrored my own life, resonating with me deeply.

All this time, I haven’t known whose story I should tell, because I wasn’t sure about my own place in the world of fiction as an Asian American.

Recently, however, I noticed a sea change occurring. The number of Asian surnames on bylines has multiplied in the past five years—I marvel each time I see one at the library. Ruth Ozeki. Celeste Ng. Ted Chiang. Min Jin Lee. Susie Yang. My middle school–age daughter is reading books by Grace Lin, Kelly Yang, and Marie Lu. No one ever said it wasn’t possible for someone like me to write fiction, but now I realize I had no models to follow while I was growing up. Nonfiction came easy for me because I got to write as myself. Fiction was much harder; I didn’t know who I should be writing as.

Each time I sat down to think through a story, I’d be stalled by the lack of a clear picture of the main character. Would my protagonist have to be of Taiwanese descent, as I am? If she weren’t, would the story be inauthentic, coming from me?

And even if I were to tackle these questions and figure out a path forward, I wasn’t convinced that a mainstream American audience would want to read a story with an Asian protagonist. But it’s become clear that at this point in time, Americans have an appetite for stories of all kinds, which is truly amazing.

I’m now also realizing that I’m free to write any kind of story I want. It could involve cultural identity—but it also could not. I recently devoured the popular book Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin (who is half Korean), and one thing that astounded me was that some of the main characters were of Asian descent, yet their cultural identity wasn’t the main point of the story. What a concept!

All this to say that, with so many great examples out there now, I’m finally feeling comfortable with the idea of writing fiction. My main character can be whomever she wants to be, and I can’t wait to tell her story.

Nancy Fann-Im is the editorial lead for a learning and development team at Google and cowriter of the Substack newsletter Dear Fiction.