If you stick to it in this business, if you work on your craft and keep striving to improve, the chances are actually pretty good that you will achieve some level of success. There’s a saying I really like from Richard Bach: “A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.” And that is so, so true. Now I don’t guarantee where your success will plateau. Maybe you’ll snag an agent. Maybe you’ll sell a book. Maybe the sky’s the limit. But you’ll never know unless you keep at it.
However. (And this is a fairly big ‘however.’)
If you have the conviction to stay with it, despite depressing odds, constant rejection and disheartening criticism, you will also become the target of people who lack your inner fortitude. People who quit on their dreams, no matter what they might’ve been, will tell you that you’re wasting your time. They will do their utmost to undermine your determination. Why? I ask myself that a lot. To me, it seems like a lot of work for no reward. But I think, at base, it hurts some people to see other people display courage or ambition they lack. They think, if I didn’t do it, then it can’t be done. Well, no. Dream big. As the White Queen said: “Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
This post regards dealing with the naysayers in your life–the ones who want to convince you to take up knitting or stop wasting your time. That’s not their decision. But before I get going, I will say this: if you’re not writing for love, if you don’t have to, then you should stop. Seriously. There are easier hobbies. But if you can’t, if it’s a drive that pushes you ever onward, then ignore those negative people. Don’t let them distract you from your goals or drain your energy. I have some tips in that regard.
(1) Do not engage.
This can be hard, frankly. Say you sign with an agent, or get your first book deal. Suddenly people you thought were your friends become passive aggressive on you. Accept there’s nothing you can do to change their reactions. Understand that your success is not, in fact, hurting them in any fashion. Sometimes you will have to take the high road and say nothing when you’d really rather offer four letter words and improbable anatomical recommendations. If these people really are your friends, they’ll apologize on their own. They’ll admit their insecurities. How you proceed from there is up to you. If they don’t, well, that brings us to my next point.
(2) Cut the chaff when necessary
If it gets to the point that a relationship is bringing you more stress and grief than pleasure, you need to cut that person loose. This job is hard enough without carrying the weight of other people’s petty jealousies. Now, that’s not to say everyone who criticizes you comes from a place of envy. But after enough experience, you can tell the sniping from the constructive commentary. Sometimes you have to accept that this person is toxic to you and best avoided.
(3) Stay away from “one day” people.
You know Newton’s law? “A body in motion tends to stay in motion unless acted on by an outside force.” Right? It’s the same in writing. If possible, surround yourself with positive people, those who get the job done. Not ones who whine and say “one day I’ll do it.” That kind of thinking is contagious; it really is. If you surround yourself with people who work hard at actualizing their dreams, you’ll find their enthusiasm drives you forward. Their “Yes, I can!” attitude will bolster you, instead of making you feel like you’re wasting your time. “One day” people are that dreaded outside force. They’ll convince you your writing can wait, because there’s a sale at the Gap. You can always write tomorrow, or the day after, and pretty soon, it’s next year. Don’t let them steal your passion.
Believe in yourself. Believe you can, even if the whole world is saying you can’t. I’ve been there, believe me. Here’s my list of impossible things, things people told me I couldn’t do because I wasn’t rich or famous, because I didn’t have connections.
(1) Graduated college
(2) Moved to a foreign country
(3) Got an agent
(4) Sold a debut SF novel written in first person, present tense, that one agent called unsellable
(5) Became a national bestselling author
(6) Sold nearly 20 books in three years
Believe in six impossible things before breakfast. I invite you to make a list of the six things you want most and then go for them.
Photo courtesy Flickr’s extranoise