Are We There Yet?
On my many trips to Atlanta with the family, I drive through the night. The main reason is to avoid hearing the repeated whines of 'Are we there yet?' Instead, everyone awakens when I'm about an hour away from my brother's house, for which I only have to hear it once. This tactic guarantees that everyone arrives with their heads still attached to their bodies. Before I begin the road trip, I know it's going to be a long journey. I also know that it doesn't help to look up at each sign post and wonder if the trip is coming to an end. You have to know and believe that there is an end and at some point in time, you will arrive.
By now you know where I'm going with this.
When I sold in 2002, I sent the first sale notice to Romance Writers of America's RWR publication. I proudly sat down to type the blurb and pulled one of the issues to copy the format. To my horror, I discovered that many people stated how many years they wrote before being published. In that issue, no one reported a timeframe of over three to five years. Then I dug out a few older copies and found one person who didn't mention the years at all. Perfect! I copied the format and sent it in. Whew, I was relieved.
A couple days later I got an email requesting the number of years to publishdom. I replied that I didn't want to reveal how long it took because it was beyond the average number of years. The person said that the information would be motivational to the pre-published. That did nothing to quell my insecurities. So I came up with a creative way to chop a few years.
I had joined my local chapter in 1992, piddled around writing an historical for several years, before thinking about writing a contemporary in 1995. I finally wrote a complete contemporary novel in 2000 and sold it in 2002. I can't remember what number I used. Why was I ashamed?
Now I look back at the experience and realize that it was a journey. I took the scenic route with a few pit stops for babies, my Master's, first home, change of day job, and parent's post-retirement adjustments. Then I received a revelation and bought a map. Directions in hand, I focused and stayed the route until I pulled up at my destination. Don't misunderstand. The journey still continues, but being published was a major goal.
So, what exactly was my revelation?
I had written several partials, never completing them. I attended my local chapter meetings, writing wonderful detailed notes. At home, the notes would be set aside until the next meeting occurred. I would start a story and then another would pop into my head and off I'd go to start that story. I stayed in this self-deluded loop until several of my writer-friends called me to share their first sale news. Honestly I didn't feel jealousy or envy, instead I felt like a dud. My definition of a dud is me sitting there with no proper proposal or complete manuscript in any shape to send to an editor. I celebrated my friends' successes, but then performed a serious self-talk about lollygagging.
For six months, I wrote every night. I attended all my chapter meetings even if the topic didn't interest me. I had already proven that I was a good note-taker. My focus was now on networking, not only with published authors, but also with writers who could relate to how I felt. Being careful not to engage in pity parties, I gained a small group of friends that became and still are my support line.
I had to take the responsibility that on this trip there is only one driver ? me. My friends take the curbside position, cheering and patting me on the back. I look forward to those supportive moments as a nice treat on a long, dry stretch of road. Occasional glances in the rear view mirror are good for status checks, but that's it. You won't move forward if your mind is constantly replaying previous less-than-perfect experiences with masochistic zeal.
Reality is that other writers will pull up alongside and then overtake you. Don't sweat it. Maybe it does seem as if they are in the express lane. Why should you care how fast they go? Maybe you picked the good old, reliable sedan to get you there. It's slower, but it's a sturdy ship that won't rock under strong winds. Getting published; achieving a best seller list; or getting another contract is not a race. Being consistent is the key to this game. Would it help if I told you that there is an editor sitting at the station, waiting for you to drive up and honk?
Set your goal. Maybe you want to enter a contest. Create your milestones. Make them as small or large as you are comfortable. As an example: 1) Come up with a story. 2) Outline or plot the story. 3) Write the proposal. 4) Share with your critique group. 5) Mail the proposal. At the end of the goal, you can celebrate your success for staying the course. If you fell off at step 3, then analyze what derailed you, but continue on aware of what are your challenges.
Are we there yet? -- That question is no longer allowed. So what if it takes 10 years to get published. So what if it takes 15 books before you land that lucrative contract. Keep your milestones in view and you'll see that you're doing what you need to do to pull into that station.
Now I can say with no shame, no shuffling of the feet, no apologies that it took me eight years to get my act together to write a complete book. I did it my way, on my time. With my goals firmly in mind, I know that I'm not there yet. But I'm on the road again, continuing on with my journey. Maybe I'll see some of you on the highway, chugging along with me.