I was talking to my friend Janet yesterday, and I told her my story about acquiring my agent.
"Wow, when the time is right, things happen fast," she said.
Yes, they do.
And, when the time is right, things happen a bit differently. I do NOT recommend this, but I ignored lots of the advice I routinely dole out about seeking an agent. I did not send multiple queries, for instance. I chose the agent I wanted and sent one query to her, because I felt so certain that she would feel the same way.
Lucky thing I was right.
Also, this manuscript had not been seen by a lot of eyes. A few people had seen the first chapters, but nobody but me had seen the full thing when I sent it out. I DO NOT RECOMMEND THIS. It is a really good idea to have your manuscript read by a critique group, or beta readers, or an editor or coach. The only reason I didn't do that is because I had a strong feeling that Erin would connect with my manuscript and I felt a sense of urgency about getting it to her.
And it all worked out even more perfectly and wonderfully than I could have hoped.
But, here's the deal–and this is a very important deal, I might add. I've been working at this for years. My overnight success has been eons in the making. I've written novels that never saw the light of day, earned my MFA,published a novel (with a small press), blogged here for eight years. I've coached writers and taught them and critiqued manuscripts. I've joined associations, and read articles and books and blog posts galore on writing. I've tweeted and Pinterested and Instagrammed and Facebooked. I've immersed myself in the world of writing fully for the last dozen years, and partially before that.
I'm not saying all that to brag, but just to point out that there's been a ton of work behind this. And while I hope that you don't have to wait quite as long as I did, I do want to emphasize that you will have to do some work to reach your dreams.
Yeah, I know you know that. And I have people ask me all the time how to get an agent–when they've not yet written one word. Or tell me that they are going to send their book proposal that consists of one page of ideas to a top publisher. And then they will wonder why they got rejected.
I hate being all lecture-y like this but it is one of my pet peeves. Do the work first and concentrate on that. Please. The rest will follow when the time is right.
"Visualize this thing you want. See it, feel it, believe in it. Make your mental blueprint and begin." Robert Collier
The importance of getting clear
We're all well-versed in goal-setting, becoming certain about what we want, and visualizing our outcomes. Knowing what you want is a no-brainer, because how can you get "there" if you don't know what your "there" is? This process is often compared to traveling without a map. Sure, you can get from New York to Los Angeles without one, but your route is apt to be far from the least efficient path if you go any which way that presents itself.
As writers, it is paramount that we understand what we want to achieve.
It's just that these days there are so many possible paths that might get us to writing success. And it's difficult to achieve clarity on what we want when there are so many options. Let's look at some of them.
Paths to Success
A myriad of choices. But which one is the path that is your heart's desire? Maybe it's a path I didn't list here, who knows? Only you.
Years ago, I was doing a lot of feature writing for newspapers and regional magazines. I'd go interview somebody and come home and shape it into a story. But increasingly as I progressed in my career, I found that I wanted to make stuff up because it would create a better story. I'd look over the quotes from the interview and find myself wishing that the interviewee had said something just a little different, because it would be so much more interesting that way. This is when I turned to learning the craft of fiction.
The Path Gets Muddy
And, then there's the slight problem of making a living. Most fiction writers don't exist financially on their novels and stories alone. They have to teach, or freelance, or ghostwrite, or something. And when doing something else, it is oh so easy to get distracted by it, lured into thinking that this is what you really want to do.
This has happened to me. Even though since the day I started writing fiction I knew I wanted to be a novelist, I've taken a number of creative U-turns along the way, mostly for the sake of earning a living. I've taken on soul-sucking ghostwriting jobs and convinced myself this kind of writing was great. I've let business coaches cajole me into focusing on branding myself as a content and copywriter–areas I'm not good at and that I loathe. And I've been enticed by the lure of internet information marketing. When all I really wanted to do was write novels.
It's very, very easy to lose your way when the path gets murky.
And that is my point today. If you can get very, very clear on your heart's desire, at least you can make concrete steps towards attaining it. Probably won't happen all at once, but hey, the journey is the destination–and nowhere is that more so than writing.
An example of this is my recent foray in indie publishing. I'm not breaking sales records or hitting the bestseller list, but I'm learning something new, enjoying getting my work out in different ways, and most importantly taking steps toward doing what I love doing the most–writing fiction.
What is your heart's desire as a writer? Are you taking steps to achieve it?
This is a guest post by Jessica Baverstock, an Aussie writer currently living in Beijing, China. Jessica read my newsletter discussing how we writers get our knickers all wound up in our stories last month and it inspired her to write about her own stories. The process of which was not only entertaining, but enlightening and worthy of sharing. So here you go. And thanks, Jessica!
1. Observe – Make a note of the stories you tell.
I am a failure as a writer.
Sure, I love to write and I have the eccentricities down pat – but I can't actually call myself a writer. You see, I've never had anything published. The closest I've ever come was at 19 when I had a poem read out on the radio. Since then I've endured a distinct silence of recognition.
And rightly so. I have nothing worth submitting. I have no polished manuscript sitting in a slush pile waiting to be discovered. I have no polished manuscript at all! I never finish projects. I have notebooks full of scribbled ideas, a bookshelf full of first drafts and several unfinished 2nd drafts languishing in a dark computer folder somewhere – but nothing actually finished.
So you see, I'm a failure as a writer.
2. Write About It– Pull your story apart.
As stories go, this is demoralizing right from the first sentence. While the statements of 'accomplishment' themselves are true, the conclusions inferred are depressingly skewed.
It does, however, give one a feeling of security. If you've already declared yourself a failure, then no one can be disappointed in you no matter what the outcome of your efforts. It's the same reason why people who are prone to falling find lying on the ground oddly comforting – at least you can't fall any further. In this case, by declaring yourself a failure, it pre-empts someone else implying it or saying it outright.
Declare yourself a writer, on the other hand, and people will immediately expect proof. 'What have you written?' 'Have you been published?' 'Can I read some of your work?' Using the above story, you've given them all the proof they need. After such a tirade, who in their right mind is going to ask to see your work?
3. Assign it to a Character – Use your story as one of your character's stories.
I am assigning this story to Shelly – a character in a novel I'm currently working on.
Shelly is bubbly, insightful and kind – always quick to point out the accomplishments and worth of others. However, as soon as she opens her mouth with this story, we realise she is not as kind to herself.
She's nursing a very personal disappointment. Her dream from childhood was to be a writer, to publish stories and see her name in print. But it never happened. She reads articles about younger people who have achieved their writing dream – how their insight into human nature, their turn of phrase, their attention to detail contributed to their success – and realises she hasn't reached the height of quality necessary to accomplish a similar feat.
She reminds herself that such dreams are childish – don't all young girls want to be ballerinas and all young boys want to be astronauts? The fact is, the world is filled with an infinite array of different occupations. This must prove that at some point in a person's development, childish dreams fall by the wayside to allow new understandings of life and the world emerge. Such is what happened in her case.
However, on the bookshelf next to her bed are several colorful journals, written in from her childhood onward and so precious to her that she cannot part with even one of them. And every morning, over breakfast, she writes in her journal about the wonderful characters and stories she dreamed of the night before.
Now isn't that the sign of a true writer?
4. Consider All the Elements– Look for the main elements, characters, themes, plot, action.
From a storytelling point of view, the only way this story can progress is for the storyteller to effect a complete change of attitude. Currently it's a 'dead end' tale. The words "never", "nothing" and "failure" do not move forward. They do not hold promise of more and better to come. They sit limp, heavy and stubborn on the page – refusing to allow any plot or action to follow.
In order for the plot to develop further, the character must step up and take action. Although the catalyst which starts a story is usually out of a character's control, the character should be the one to make the decision to launch into the next chapter – to spark off the journey which we long to read about.
Therefore this character must change her tune – she must transform her theme from 'failure' to 'opportunity.'
And this can all be done starting with one very simple word – yet.
"I have never had anything published." Yet.
"I have nothing worth submitting." Yet.
5. Write a New Story
I am a writer. I haven't had anything published yet because I'm working through what I like to call my 'apprenticeship.'
I've worked on many different stories, genres, characters and plots – learning along the way. I'm finding my distinctive voice, discovering the tricks to storytelling, creating collections of ideas, instituting schedules, building friendships and practicing the art of writing itself.
One day I will produce polished work worthy of submission. Until that time, I am thoroughly enjoying my journey – for without it I would never accomplish my dream.
Jessica Baverstock had her first run in with the writing life when, at age 3, she met her father's typewriter. Ever since, she's been passionate about putting words on paper, dreaming one day of making it to publication. She can be found at her blog, Creativity's Workshop, where her Creativity is featured as a real character – writing in distinctive purple text.