Please welcome Natalia Sylvester, debut author of Chasing the Sun. Natalia was born in Lima, Peru, and she came to the U.S. at age four. She grew up in South Florida and received a B.A. in Creative Writing from the University of Miami. A former magazine editor, Natalia now works as a freelance writer in Texas. Her articles have appeared in Latina Magazine, Writer’s Digest, The Writer, and NBCLatino.com.
Here’s what Seré Prince Halverson, author of The Underside of Joy, had to say about Natalia’s debut novel Chasing the Sun: “An intimate, unflinching portrait of a marriage, examined against the suspenseful backdrop of a terrifying kidnapping. Natalia Sylvester writes masterfully about the many ties that bind and the sacrifices that may be necessary in order to truly free ourselves. Wise, lyrical, and intriguing throughout—this book stole me away, refusing my return until I finished the last page.”
We are all embarking on similar journeys with a myriad of paths. There’s no such thing as being ahead or behind someone; there’s only you, then & now.
Of today’s post, Natalia says that she’s been reflecting a lot on the “Then & Now” of her publishing journey—“how so many things I thought would be different aren’t, and how many of the things that are different have taken me completely by surprise. When we’re on the verge of some new milestone or goal, I think it’s important to look ahead but to also look back, because we should always mine our past for lessons we missed the first time around.”
A Letter to Aspiring-Writer-Me from Debut-Novelist-Me
Dear Past Me,
You should know, first and foremost, that time spent waiting—for creativity to strike, for an agent to offer representation, for an editor to buy your book and for it to finally make its way into readers’ hands—will seem like little more than a blink once the book is out and The Dream you hoped would happen has happened, and you will wish you took time (the one thing you once wished would go faster!) to simply savor it all.
You should know things won’t turn out exactly the way you hoped they would. Some will turn out better. Others, simply differently. The book you landed your agent with won’t sell, and you’ll have to start writing a new one. (There will be tears.) Somewhere along the way you’ll change editors, or stress about cover concepts, or plans for book events will fall through, and you’ll say to yourself, I know these are problems I am lucky to have. (But there will still be anguish.) UPS will knock on your door one day and you’ll open it thinking the lotions and deodorant you ordered have arrived, only to realize it’s your book, made real. (There will be more tears.)
One day, during a conversation with your agent, you’ll realize that your whole life you’ve been mispronouncing several imprint and author names. Let me save you the embarrassment: Liveright is “live-right,” not “liver-ite.” The L and the T in Jodi Picoult are silent, the K in Knopf is not. The “gh” in Houghton Mifflin Harcourt is not an “f.” When in doubt, just say HMH.
Looking back, the moments you’re most proud of won’t be your big successes; they’ll be your biggest failures, and the fact that you kept going in spite of them. Remember this when you’re ready to quit.
Getting a book deal might change your life in the long run, but day-to-day, you’ll still have laundry piling up and you’ll still have to scoop your dog’s poop in tiny green bags, several times a day. It’s never been more important to be happy with the simple things. They are the homes we live in daily, whereas launch dates and book deals are a dream vacation we take when we’re lucky. Focus on making your home one you’ll always love returning to.
Your book may be your whole world, but to the whole world it is a book.
Writing may be what you do, but it is not all you are. You’ll be surprised where you find joy and inspiration: the coolness of the sand on a Sunday when you decide to start playing volleyball again, a slowly-cooked meal, a walk that takes a little longer than it should, just because.
About those negative reviews: Imagine you could change that one character or plot twist certain readers keep saying they didn’t like. Then all your happy readers who loved that character or plot twist would be disappointed, and your unhappy readers would (perhaps) be satisfied. The two groups of readers would simply switch places; the negative reviews wouldn’t magically cease to exist. Balance would be restored in the world.
Everything in publishing will take longer than you think it will. (This is probably a good time to take up knitting.)
Most days, seeing friends on Facebook and Twitter share news about their book deals will reaffirm your belief that this dream is not unattainable. It will be fuel and you will be grateful for the example they’ve set and the reminder that you’re doing something right. But some days you’ll hear a deflated voice ask “When is it my turn?” And it won’t feel like jealousy; just like you’ve been left behind. On those days, congratulate them, genuinely and whole-heartedly, then step away from the computer. Get some fresh air, get some sun. Get lost in a random book written by a person you’ve never met, online or off.
There are few absolutes in life but one is this: you cannot do it all. Do what you can, do what you love, do it your best.
I am writing this letter today because you started something—a line, a paragraph, a page—years and years ago. Journeys are unpredictable and destinations can change, but what you alone hold in your hands right now is the beginning.
Along your writer’s journey have you ever written or wanted to write a letter to your former or future self? What might you (or did you) say? Are there words of wisdom you can share?