Friends often ask me why I’m glued to my computer, always in the house working and not out having fun. My answer, “Because I have a dream.”
When I first started writing a book it was exciting, new, shiny. I wanted to tell everyone about this huge undertaking. By the time I finished writing 90K words half my world knew about it. It’s human nature to want to share a new venture with the people in our lives. So I filled everyone in about rewriting my first draft, tried to educate them a bit about the process. They politely smiled and nodded because they were sick of hearing about it by this time.
Then it came time to choose a publishing path. That was when everyone had an opinion, and most didn’t know enough about either option to properly list the pros and cons. Since I didn’t know any other writers I listened to my heart and chose traditional, and then sent out my “masterpiece” just knowing that some lucky agent would snatch it up and make me an over-night sensation. A star.
When that first rejection came in my dreams shattered into a million pieces. Some of you will quit at this point. Some of you, like me, will be too stubborn to admit defeat. I told myself things like, “Maybe it wasn’t the right agent. I just need someone who will appreciate my hard work.”
Again, I was fooling myself. I was still riding the high of dreaming about becoming a best seller. And you know what? That’s okay. I should dream. And dream big. That’s what drives us. That’s what keeps our rear-end in the chair and us working. It’s the kind of thinking that WILL turn us into stars one day. That’s what differentiates us from the ones who quit after four rejection letters.
But I also learned that it was important to set smaller goals along the way toward that dream. And I’ll tell you why. By conquering small hurdles I had something to be proud of, a reason to pat myself on the back, a reason to keep forging ahead.
Some small goals of mine were:
1. Finish writing the first draft.
2. Finish rewriting and editing the first draft until I could not make it any better.
3. Show my polished work to a beta-reader. At this point most probably won’t have a critique partner yet unless they have friends who are writers. At least for me this step took time. It took years for me to find good critique partners. Which is why I’d bind and gag them before I’d let them go. Just kidding… sort of.
4. Tackle the query letter. Don’t rush this step. I made this mistake too. This is your first impression and you can only make it once. Trust me on this.
Once I conquered one of these goals I rewarded myself in some small way. Had my favorite treat or gave myself an hour of free time to surf the net or chat with a neighbor. Each small goal drove me toward my dream. And I was building confidence along the way in an industry that can be crushing to one’s spirit.
Writing is hard. If you don’t agree with this you’re probably not doing it right. No one– and I mean no one– ever quickly jotted down a story and sent it off only to discover it soared to number one on the New York Times’ Best Sellers List. It just doesn’t work that way. Writing is work, it’s passion, it’s art. When you write you should pour your soul into your words. Feel the emotions you’re trying to portray. Robert Frost’s famous quote: “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader.” It’s so true. If your words don’t move you, how do you expect them to move anyone else?
Then I had to face a hard truth that my first novel might never see the light of day unless I published it myself. Which, for me, wasn’t an option. For me, that would mean compromising my dream. And I wasn’t willing to do that. Not then, not now.
Here’s a little fact that will be a hard pill to swallow for most of you. I know it was for me. Most traditionally published authors wrote four to six novels before they ever got an agent. Honestly, I almost fell off my chair when I read that one. Now, does that mean you can’t rewrite that first novel over and over again? In my opinion, no. I don’t see that it would make a difference whether you rewrite one or write four new ones as long as you’re honing your craft.
Letting go of that first novel was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I lived with this book for years. It was my baby, my first-born. I’d held on to it longer than I should have because I’d poured my heart and soul into it, rewrote it so many times that I got sick of looking at it. My husband could practically recite the novel from memory. It’s called A Strangled Rose, and it will always be close to my heart, which is why I keep it listed on my website. Maybe someday I’ll rewrite it one more time and set it free. Never say never.
But it was a necessary step in order for me to grow as a writer. I needed to let go of my baby and create something new, fresh, have a new adventure. I needed to do this for me. Now, you may not need the same thing. You may be happy rewriting the same story 400+ times, because when you first start learning that’s about how many times you’ll need to do it before you hone your craft. Ask any writer out there. I bet they all tell you the same thing.
It all comes down to perseverance. How badly do you want it? Are you willing to do whatever it takes to get there? If you can’t imagine not fulfilling your dreams then you will succeed. It’s the writer who sacrifices, who writes when they don’t feel like it, who studies the craft when they’d rather be out with friends, who writes and writes and reads and reads who will rise above the others. I believe this with every inch of my being.
But it all depends on what your definition of success is. Some are happy to sell 100 copies of their book. Some shoot for 1000. Others say anything under 10K is failure. Whatever your idea of success is the most important thing you can do is never, ever give up on your dream. No matter how many times you fall, get back up and keep going.
Writing is not for everyone. Some write as a hobby, and that’s fine too. It’s the writer who dares to dream beyond that I’m really speaking to today. The writer who wants it all and won’t settle for less. The writer who won’t quit until they see their name at the top of the New York Times’ Best Sellers List. And even then, who will strive for not one book on that list but two, three, twenty. The writer who sees their books turned into television series and movies. That’s my dream. What’s yours?