A Letter to Aspiring-Writer-Me from Debut-Novelist-Me

Image-1Please 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.”

Connect with Natalia on Twitter and Facebook and on her blog.

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.

ChasingtheSun_RevisedFinalFrontCover_jpegLooking 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.

With love,

Natalia

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?

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Comments

  1. says

    Oh, boy, Natalia! If I could get my hands on a time machine (science fiction writers: please help), I’d send a letter back to June 4, 2009, to a very frustrated writer lost in longhand. What would I say to that past self?
    Writing novels is like making pancakes. Though The first few might not work out (but they are yummy and enjoyed by the cook), eventually, when you get things calibrated, it is worth the effort. Very much like what you mentioned, Natalia, I’ve had to give up on earlier novels and it’s the best thing I’ve ever done. Heck, I’d even give up the one I’ve spent the last 2 years on if moving on to the subsequent was the next step toward a successful publishing career (though I would not do so without seeking expert advice first). Sometimes, I think we can get too attached to writing as a noun and must discover that writing is a verb, too. I prefer the latter – it keeps me going, and makes for better calluses.

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    • says

      Oh man, I LOVE that pancake analogy.

      And Natalie, there is so much brilliance and beauty in this post. Thank you!

      Can’t wait till your book arrives on my doorstep. ;)

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      • says

        You don’t know the smile it brought to my face to see your book order land in front of me to sign. Such a lovely moment to be able to share with you. xoxo

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    • says

      “I think we can get too attached to writing as a noun and must discover that writing is a verb, too.” SUCH wise words, John. I’ll have to remember that.

      I love your pancake metaphor! It’s absolutely perfect.

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      • says

        Thank-you Natalia and Kristan. The pancake analogy is one that came to me about a year ago when I was the breakfast cook (never a good idea). I messed up the first two, but made a wonderful batch. “If only writing novels could be like this.” (I will add that one must not forget that whipping cream, syrup, and strawberry jam, make pancakes exciting and multidimensional.)

        –congratulations on Chasing the Sun!

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  2. says

    I can very much relate to feeling jealousy at others’ successes–not a good feeling, not productive at all. For me, it is always better to immerse myself in writing and ignore the outside world than to maintain awareness of social media and such things.
    Great article, very inspiring! :)

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  3. says

    This is perfect, Natalia. Sometimes I feel like I’m so close… then comes the setback. And yet, even setbacks can lead to incredible compliments and excitement about my next project from readers, wonderfully generous and insightful conversations with writing friends and mentors about the path forward, and even an essay that is well-received. All of those have happened to me… In the past week! It’s been a great reminder that every day I’m making memories. Today, starting a new week, I feel blessed. Why is it I have to constantly relearn that this is a journey, not a destination? Not sure, but I do.

    FYI, I was right there with you on several of those mispronunciations. So thanks. I’ve had similar feelings when speaking to someone I respect in the biz, and they ask if I’ve ever read *insert big name from my genre*, and I have to admit I haven’t. Worse still, they then listed off three more, all of whom I haven’t read. Talk about feeling the opposite of well-read.

    Congratulations on your HUGE milestone. Wishing you much success, for Chasing the Sun, and in chasing the next great idea–and the one after that. Don’t be like me–enjoy “the journey” from here forward!

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    • says

      Thank you so much, Vaughn. And congratulations to you too on a week full of milestones worth celebrating! You’re right about the journey vs destination: destinations seem so final, after all. Once you get there, what next? If we approach it as a journey we’ll always be grateful to be heading somewhere, wherever that may be next.

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  4. says

    Thank you for this, Natalia. Most writers have faced some of these vulnerabilities and will SO relate. You shared yours by sharing your letters with us. So beautifully too. Thank you!

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    • says

      Thank you, Debra! I’m grateful you found it inspiring; I myself found so much inspiration through posts on this site by others and am so happy at the chance to return the favor.

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  5. says

    Thank you Natalia; it’s good to look at the journey from another perspective, and this helped me see it “from the other side.” Like Vaughn, I feel like I constantly have to relearn that it’s a journey not a destination. And letters like this (and friends like you) really help along the way. Thank you!

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  6. Denise Willson says

    Heartfelt post, Natalia. Thank you.

    Denise Willson
    Author of A Keeper’s Truth and GOT

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    • says

      Thank you so much, Ellen! The title was another surprise—not the original one by any means, but after many rewrites and revisions, it’s the one that simply felt right.

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  7. says

    This is so perfect and spot-on, Natalia, that it made me both tear up and laugh at different moments. I’m amazed you can be so thoughtful and wise immediately after the launch of your book. It’s a year later for me, and I feel like some of these are lessons I’m still coming to terms with. Congrats on CHASING THE SUN. I simply can’t wait to read it!

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    • says

      Thank you so much, Andrea! It’s been a very fulfilling (and full) week, but I know I still have much to learn going forward! I’m grateful for friends like you who I know I can count on to share thoughtful advice and insights :)

      And thank you so much for the warm congrats on CTS! xoxo

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  8. says

    Thank you for this beautiful letter. So much resonates. I’ve not written a letter to myself but to my kids that I have not yet given to them … and I must say it’s about savoring the journey, the small moments of grace and beauty.

    Congratulations on Chasing the Sun!

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  9. Poeticus says

    The letters I’ve written to my past ambitious writer I write to my now and future writer too. They say perservere, study, practice. Never mind rejection. It is the great motivator. Disapproving critics serve a useful function. Applaud them for it. They at least heard about the book, maybe actually read it, and their negativity is publicity that may attract more readers. Read this book about writing first, this one next, then this one. Do not resist reading about writing in any regard, for that has been your greatest handicap and weakness.

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  10. says

    Past me, you have the right attitude, sir.

    Read.
    Write.
    Learn.
    Show.
    Listen.
    Recycle.

    Continue to communicate with other writers, appreciate them, value them, and listen to them. You’ll have to sift through a few emotions from time to time, but it will always be worth it.

    Hey past me, do you remember that book you found with the gimmicky sounding title?

    You know the one- Writing the Breakout Novel.

    Pick that shit up and put the other book back. Follow the author to a website called- Writer Unboxed. Yeah, yeah I like the title too. Believe me when I say it will add a few more years to your writing education. Look- it’s the route you’re going to travel anyway. I’m just giving a chance to get there 2 years earlier. Oh yeah, remember the name Krissy Brady too. All I can say is, Uncanny Inspiration.

    And definitely, follow the advice of Poeticus. In one night, the book called A Dash of Style will solve a problem you’ve been struggling with for 5 years. Make sure you thank Poeticus too. Book or not, it’s still a good idea to mimic the dialogue of Poeticus for your one character.

    Yeah.
    You know the one.

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    • says

      “Continue to communicate with other writers, appreciate them, value them, and listen to them. You’ll have to sift through a few emotions from time to time, but it will always be worth it.”

      Absolutely worth it. I’ll never understand why writing is depicted as such a solitary effort. The real learning comes from community.

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  11. says

    Natalia,

    Thank you for sharing this very inspirational post. I think it says a lot about the type of person you are that you didn’t feel jealousy, just left behind, as others were getting published and you weren’t there yet. For those who do get jealous, I think it’s a normal reaction and people shouldn’t feel bad if they feel that way. But if you can get to the point where you believe it will be your turn someday too and feel happiness for the success of others, it is a much better place to be in.

    It was interesting to learn the book you landed your agent with did not sell. But you marched onward and succeeded. A testament to the art of perseverance. Maybe that first book will be raised now that you’ve published this one to much acclaim.

    Sere’s statement about your book is lovely. She and I live in the same part of California and I’ve had the pleasure of meeting her. She is such a nice lady and a fantastic writer.

    Look forward to your continued success.

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    • says

      Isn’t Sere wonderful?! I had a chance to meet her when she came to town for a book signing when The Underside of Joy had just launched. So grateful for her friendship and generous spirit.

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  12. says

    Wow, super post! I enjoyed the part about cheering for fellow writers on their book deals. I am reaffirmed when I hear about others success and try hard not to be overly envious. There is a time and place for all of us. Thank you for this lovely letter.

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  13. says

    Nicely said. Every once in a while I have to remind myself the path to publishing is darkest before dawn. You said it better.

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    • says

      Brenda Copeland, an editor who’s very active on Twitter, once tweeted, “When you’re ready to quit, you’re closer than you think.” I may be biased because I read this at just the right time, but I think she said it best ;)

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  14. says

    Nice post. Always fun to hear from someone who has made that jump from “aspiring writer” to “debut novelist!” Congrats!

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  15. says

    Natalia oh how this speaks to me, after feeling flat about my WIP and dreams. This letter encourages me to keep going, some days are diamonds and some just stones, except I like collecting stones. Thank you I am going to share it with my fellow fiction writing group.

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  16. says

    Just Lovely. The past, present and future presented impeccably.
    Enjoy the journey whatever happens, whenever possible.
    Looks like Chasing the Sun worked and you caught it!

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  17. says

    This is wonderful, Natalia, whether published yet or not, we can all see ourselves at some point in what you’ve written.

    And I like the reminder that we can’t do it all, and that we can’t please everyone. Kudos to you on your awesome journey! :)

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  18. says

    Natalia, many congrats on your debut novel and thanks for sharing your down-to-earth wisdom. Getting Published is such a big dream, we can lose perspective. Yaay for pets and those little green bags ! :-)

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  19. says

    Fantastic post! I love this line:

    “Your book may be your whole world, but to the whole world it is a book.”

    It’s far too easy to get so wrapped up and absorbed in your book that you lose sight of the big picture.

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