This post is pulling double duty as a continuation of my Life After Contract Series, and Insecure Writer’s Support Group. So pop on over and say Hi to Alex, and give a big hand to this month's co-hosts: Jennifer Hawes,Jen Chandler, Nick Wilford, Juneta Key, JH Moncrieff, Diane Burton, and MJ Fifield!
Sometimes writers talk about how the first half million words suck. Yeah, that was me. I was well past that mark before agents and publishers started requesting partials. All of those early requests landed in the rejection pile.
My most recent break in writing lasted until the summer of 2009. I hit September and started writing like a woman possessed. Over the next 18 months I wrote over 350,000 words, all of it crap. I spent the next six months after that writing another novel, so two full years in. Then, a year after that (!!!) I got my first partial request. It came back a week later as a form letter rejection.
As you can imagine three full years of busting buns to get a thing going, and the best I had to show for it was ONE partial request. Ouch doesn’t begin to cover the moment when I started questioning my life choices. And, as a side note, writing was not the thing I was doing for my daily bread. Writing was a major sacrifice for me and my family. I had believed in it—believed in me!—and all I had at that point was a partial and a quick rejection.
Yeah, things were dark, so I did the thing that many writers do: I picked a different goal. I stepped back from my writing and asked myself “What would be worth it? What would be worth all of this sacrifice?”
Well, to be clear, fame has its own problems, and I’m just not interested in playing that game.
Well, pretty much no one makes a fortune in books (which reminds me of a joke: Wanna know how to make a small fortune in publishing? Start with a big fortune). Okay, so money isn’t on its way.
So if fame and fortune aren’t goals that I can work towards, then what is the goal?
After much soul searching on the Do I cut bait and run or do I stick this out scale, I came up with another reason to write stories. I wanted to write stories so that other people, people who found them could know that they are not alone. Specifically, I wanted people to be able to read my books, identify with something or someone inside the book and think “I’m not the only one.” Because, honestly, I was very lonely growing up, and books were my salvation. So I chose that. I told myself that if just one person could ever have that feeling after reading my book, I was good with the effort I put into it. That thought carried me through years of rejections and hope and revisions, it was what kept me from diving into my writer’s cave to never come out. I could always write and not share it with the world. But I held the hope of sharing the light of not being alone in this great big universe with someone else, someone I would never meet, through my books.
And then my book came out into the world, and someone said that reading my book made them feel less alone—on the very first day! A complete stranger no less!
That’s right, life goal met on day one. Now what?
And there was this mad scramble in my mind because I had never prepared for success. Not once, not ever. There were plans and contingencies for failure. Failure I knew how to handle, but this unqualified success, this light in the darkness thing? What was I supposed to do with that?
There’s a StarTrek saying that’s confusing until you experience it: Having a thing is not so pleasing a thing as wanting a thing. It means that sometimes the pursuit of a goal is more fulfilling than have accomplished the goal. I know, pure insanity, but for me, the journey had become tied up with my identity as a writer.
And by having accomplished that thing, I fell into a sort of shock. Now what? I thought. I’d done the thing. I’d managed the impossible. Now I needed a new dream, and I hadn’t been ready to say goodbye to the other dream. It caused some major discord in my life to have my identity stripped from me by success. I’d failed so much that not failing had become out of character.
How about you? Did you ever accomplish something big and have that moment where you’re looking around for the things that define you?