Part of the How They Do It Series (Monthly Contributor)
This morning I spent some time reflecting on this bizarre, dream world I’ve stumbled into as a professional author. I’ve always imagined that, one day, I’d be published. It was always a back pocket thought. A maybe if I’m lucky kind of dream.
So now that my book is set to launch into the world on September 12th, I want to glance back at all the reasons I had to give up on doing the thing that I love the most. Maybe, just maybe, these will resonate with you. And maybe this post will have you pushing on to reach whatever dream you’ve always wanted to chase.
“Real Job” Mentality
This was central to my high school experience. Writing is great. Creativity is wonderful. But it’s not a real job, you know? Wouldn’t you rather be an X, Y, or Z? This came at me from every direction, but I most poignantly recall a school counselor laughing at the idea that writing was a career. I don’t blame her. Honestly, I think there’s a society-wide belief that the arts are a fine sideshow, but not realistic work for those who wish to live and support families. And, hey, plenty of authors will tell you that this is hard. Making a career out of writing, like most things, requires dedication and drive and a growing skill set. But still, the expectation and treatment of artistic careers makes me want to print out my first billing statement from Random House and slap it against the glass Will Hunting-style… thus far I’ve resisted the temptation.
“Real Writer” Mentality
In spite of these discouragements, I enrolled as an English and Creative Writing major at UNC. In many ways, I had found my people. Fellow students who poured over books like they were sprawling museums filled with hidden treasures. Folks who wanted to argue about characters in stories. Yes, finally, yes! Except, I wasn’t a real writer.
When I turned in chapters to fantasy novels, rather than crisp vignettes of the real world, I had several teachers raise an eyebrow and call out my work as genre garbage. It was suggested, on more than one occasion, that I take what skill I had and apply it to proper writing. I loved writing at the time, but experts and mentors were telling me which writing I should love, and it was never the kind I actually wanted to write.
After my sophomore year, I applied to be a part of UNC’s advance track for writers. I wanted to keep going. I wanted to get better. I wasn’t chosen. It was so hard to experience that first rejection. For the next year or so, I didn’t write much. If I couldn’t make the first cuts in my own writing program, could I really ever write something of worth?
I started to pursue writing more seriously during graduate school. I joined a writing group. I finished my first novel. It was so much fun… Sixty queries later (and sixty rejections later), it didn’t feel quite as fun. I had one agent bite and ask for the manuscript. Eventually she turned me down. I was bummed, but capable of admitting to myself the writing might not be my strongest. I could do better. It was time to move on to another story.
So I wrote another book. This time, I thought, I had written something quite good. Beta readers were obsessed with the work. I remember boldly telling people I was certain this was the book that would get me an agent. Thirty-five queries later… I found out I was wrong about that. No one wanted it. This one hit me harder, because I thought maybe I wasn’t cut out to be a writer. Two books had proven that true, hadn’t they?
But I didn’t give up.
In May of 2015, I would submit a book to agents that eventually became Nyxia. I signed with an agent that August. I had a publishing deal for the entire trilogy in October. The book will be translated into French, Polish, Spanish, and Portuguese. It’s a lead title from one of the top publishing houses in the world. What is this wild life?
I kept writing for a few reasons.
First, I am hardwired to love stories. I just can’t get enough of books and movies and life. If you’ve ever spent more than thirty minutes with me, you know that I can’t help myself. I’m constantly replying with, “That reminds me of this one time…”
Second, in between those bitter and discouraging moments, I had friends and family and teachers encouraging me. There were gaps as large as three years where I wrote nothing, but even the slightest affirmations brought me back to the table. Finding the right people to spur you on in your passion matters so much.
So don’t give up.
Push past the rejections. Ignore the societal expectations. Find people who want you to succeed. Keep writing the stories that only you can write, I’ll be waiting to read them.
NYXIA is now AVAILABLE for preorder! Check the link below!
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Emmett Atwater isn’t just leaving Detroit; he’s leaving Earth. Why the Babel Corporation recruited him is a mystery, but the number of zeroes on their contract has him boarding their lightship and hoping to return to Earth with enough money to take care of his family.
Before long, Emmett discovers that he is one of ten recruits, all of whom have troubled pasts and are a long way from home. Now each recruit must earn the right to travel down to the planet of Eden—a planet that Babel has kept hidden—where they will mine a substance called Nyxia that has quietly become the most valuable material in the universe.
But Babel’s ship is full of secrets. And Emmett will face the ultimate choice: win the fortune at any cost, or find a way to fight that won’t forever compromise what it means to be human.