by Marilyn Brant
Dear Aspiring Writer:
A recent conversation I had with a multi-published novelist friend made me think of you...and how difficult, stressful and frequently frustrating it is to break into this "challenging" (read: "OMG, it's so chaotic and insane...why do we DO this to ourselves?!") industry. How we need so much emotional bolstering and moral support (and, also, boxes of chocolate truffles and pitchers of margaritas...) from friends and family to see beyond the soul-crushing rejections or reviews, the steep learning curves, the unpredictable publishing changes and the banquet of fear/insecurity/self-doubt that this particular calling creates.
I know what you're dealing with out there. Really. I do.
My author friend and I were aspiring writers together a decade ago, and we still help each other remember that long, arduous climb toward getting any kind of professional feedback, agent interest, editor requests and -- eventually -- publishing contracts. And, yes, the industry has changed, and we all have digital opportunities that didn't exist just a few years ago, but that doesn't mean the roadblocks and the aggravations have all disappeared.
They haven't. Not even when you're published by a New York house. Or the winner of a big literary award. Or the #1 placeholder on some kind of coveted list.
But, while I could devote a lengthy, meandering post to how hard it is to get published and stay that way (or to self publish and gain discoverability), I will, instead, pull out my magical fairy wand -- just a little trinket I picked up over spring break -- and bestow upon you what I think are the FIVE GREATEST GIFTS a writer could ever have. None can be purchased, lost or stolen. And none require anyone else's consent to possess them.
So, Aspiring Writer, these are for you:
Yes, rejection sucks. It sucks for everybody. You can pout for a day or two (want some Belgian chocolate? a grande margarita?), but then you need to revise your manuscript if there's room for improvement -- and, let's face it, there usually is -- and submit the damn thing again. How many times? Well, IMO, until you get the answer you want to hear.
2. A Killer Work Ethic
Be responsible. Get done what you say you're going to do. Or, to quote the wisdom of one of my favorite fortune cookies: "Always over-deliver & under-promise. (Lucky Numbers: 28, 29, 16, 52, 38, 14)" It's stunning how often people don't follow through. Unless a family or health crisis prevents you -- because, on rare occasion, there ARE legitimate reasons for not finishing a project on time -- show how incredible you are by not being a slacker.
3. Creative Thinking
There will be moments when readers won't get your story's humor (trust me on this) or like your "unusual premise" or relate to your offbeat characters/plot/narrative style. Still, don't play it safe and write something that doesn't have a shread of risk in it. Use your imagination. You're special. It's true, you REALLY are. Show us your unique vision in some way.
Yes, rejection sucks. It sucks for everybody. (Do you hear an echo?) I'm not advocating rampant Pollyanna-ism. It's useful to see the world as realistically as you're able...BUT, there's no need to be the Loudest and Most Insistent Voice of Doom in the Tri-State either. You're allowed to grumble sometimes. (Though, if at all possible, try to avoid tactless ranting on social-media sites, okay?) But then, if there's any kind of a bright side or silver lining to be found, please try to find it. It'll most likely make you feel better, and it'll most certainly make other people more inclined to want to lend you a hand.
What do you care about? What are your passions? What makes life worth living, in your opinion? If you can't answer these questions, for heaven's sake, don't work on a manuscript right now. Go out into the world and experience some of life until you DO know. Ask yourself, "What if?" Ask other people, "Why?" and "How?" and "Then what happened?" When you're bursting with something you just have to try to express, THEN go home and write about those sensations, thoughts, emotions, situations and complications... Attempt to write what you care about so passionately that it inspires curiosity in others.
And above all, Aspiring Writer, hang in there. It's a long road, this journey of ours, but you can do it.
Here's wishing you the fulfillment of your every literary dream~
p.s. I don't think my list of gifts is an exhaustive one. What qualities would YOU give to other writers?
Marilyn Brant writes contemporary women's fiction and romantic comedy. Her latest novel, A Summer in Europe, was recently called "an armchair traveler's dream come true" and it'll be the B&N General Fiction Book Club's featured online read for May 2012. She's insanely passionate about both travel & chocolate, and she just returned from a family trip to London (after 16 years away!), which is where she picked up her magical fairy wand, along with a suitcase crammed full of Bournville Cadbury Bars. Those Brits, they have everything. :-)