This morning I’ve spent some time reflecting on this bizarre, dream of a world I’ve stumbled into. Long have I held loosely the idea that I might one day have a career in writing. I really mean that. It was a back pocket thought. A maybe if I’m lucky kind of dream. Now that it’s here, I want to glance back at all the reasons I had to give up on doing the thing that I love the most. Maybe, just maybe, these will resonate. Maybe it will get you out of your chair and into whatever dream you wanted to chase. Here they are:
- Early Schooling Discouragements – In the 6th grade I took my first stab at a real, fantasy story. Twelve pages about birds of prey fighting in a war against mice. I turned it in with utter anticipation. What would my teacher say?! This wasn’t your average free write. I didn’t just recap my weekend activities. I’d invented a story. I got a 90, because I used the wrong font. There were no other comments on the entire story. I didn’t write anything similar to that story until high school.
- “Real Job” Mentality – This was central to my high school experience. Writing is great. Creativity is wonderful. But it’s not a real job, you know? Wouldn’t you rather be X, Y, or Z? This came at me from every direction, but I most poignantly recall a school counselor laughing at the idea that writing was a career. I don’t actually blame her. Honestly, I think there’s a society-wide belief that the arts are a fine sideshow, but not realistic work for those who wish to live and support families. And, hey, plenty of authors will tell you that this is hard. Making a career out of writing, like most things, requires dedication and drive and a growing skill set. But still, the expectation and treatment of artistic careers makes me want to print out my first billing statement from Random House and slap it against the glass Will Hunting-style… but I’ve resisted the temptation to do so.
- “Real Writer” Mentality – In spite of these discouragements, I enrolled as an English and Creative Writing major at UNC. In many ways, I had found my tribe. Fellow students who poured over books like they were sprawling museums filled with hidden treasures. Folks who wanted to argue about characters in stories. Yes, finally, yes! Except, I wasn’t a real writer. When I turned in chapters to fantasy novels, rather than crisp vignettes of the real world, I had several teachers raise an eyebrow and call out my work as genre garbage. It was suggested, on more than one occasion, that I take what skill I had and apply it to proper pursuits. I loved writing at the time, but experts and mentors were telling me which writing I should love, and it was never the kind I actually wanted to write.
- First Rejections – After my sophomore year, I applied to be a part of UNC’s advance track for writers. I wanted to keep going. I wanted to get better. But I wasn’t chosen. It was so hard to experience that first rejection. For the next year or so, I didn’t write. If I couldn’t make the first cuts in my own writing program, could I really ever write something of worth?
- Computer Angst – During my senior year, I failed to back up most of my files. Three in-progress stories wiped off my computer. Months of work, gone in a heartbeat.
- Second Rejections – I started to pursue writing more seriously during graduate school. I joined a writing group. I finished my first novel. It was so much fun… Sixty queries later (and sixty rejections later), it didn’t feel quite as fun. I had one agent bite and ask for the manuscript. Eventually, however, she turned me down. I was bummed, but more than able to admit to myself the writing might not be my strongest. I could do better. It was time to move on to another story.
- Third Rejections – So I wrote another book. This time, I thought, I had written something quite good. Beta readers were obsessed with the book. I remember boldly telling people I was quite certain this was the book that would get me an agent. Thirty-five queries later… I found out I was wrong about that. No one wanted it. This one hit me harder, because I thought maybe I wasn’t cut out to be a writer. Two books had proven that true, hadn’t they?
Then, in May, I went out with the book that would eventually be titled The Black Hole of Broken Things. I have an agent now. I have a publishing deal for my trilogy. The book’s already slated to be translated into French, Polish, Spanish, and Portugese. We’re shopping movie rights. What is this crazy life?
I think I kept writing for a few reasons.
First, God hardwired me to love story. I just can’t get enough of books and movie and life. If you’ve ever spent more than thirty minutes with me, you know I can’t help myself… I’m constantly starting things out with, “That reminds me of this one time…”
Second, in between those bitter and discouraging moments, I had friends and family and teachers encouraging me. There were gaps as large as three years where I wrote nothing, but even the slightest affirmations brought me back to the table. Yesterday, a beta reader told me they picked up the second book in my series and couldn’t put it down. They loved it. I’ll float for weeks on that.
So don’t give up. Even if you’ve got good reasons to do so. There are points when I did, but something always happened to pull me back into writing. I’d encourage you to surround yourself with people who make you want to write. Push past the rejections and the societal expectations and the wrong fonts, and keep writing your stories.
I’ll be waiting to read them.