I desperately want to be a writer. … I attended a book signing and I could picture myself doing it, like it could be me. I could do this. … What does it take to make it?
It would be good if life had easy answers. If you could just say, “Work hard and persist, and you will be successful.” Life doesn’t always work that way.
So let’s talk about making it. What do you mean by that? Is it being published by a respected publishing house? Is having your own signing with a long line “making it?” Is it receiving critical acclaim? Is it respect of your family and friends? (Let it go on that last one, by the way. One of the first things I realized when we go published – nobody except us cared.) You need to define what “making it” means to you.
When I was younger, I wanted to be a genetic engineer. I had a very romantic view of it, thanks to all of the science fiction I’ve read. I thought it would be interesting and exciting. I was in love with the idea of being a scientist. I literally couldn’t imagine myself doing anything else. I’ve had excellent grades, I was smart, and both of my parents were scientists. Nothing in my life indicated that I wouldn’t successful at it.
And then I got to work in a genetics lab in the university where my professor explored such awesome research topics as characteristics of regulatory subunits of Arabidopsis protein phosphatase. Do you know what Arabidopsis is?
It’s a weed. We literally watched the grass grow. It was so boring. So very, very boring.
It dawned on me that while I loved the end result – being a scientist – I hate the actual grind of it. I hated the smell of autoclave, the endless notes, the mixing of buffers, the operation of the lab equipment. I hated the damn grass. In my head, I expected to, I don’t know, cross apple with a tangerine and create a new fruit. Grow giant carrots. Make a tiger with wings. Something.
I realized than that it wasn’t worth it. Even though I would be doing something important and my parents would be deeply proud of me, it wasn’t worth it. If I became a genetic engineer, I would hate my daily life.
I like writing. When I think about starting Hidden Legacy #4 after the tour, it fills me with a happy anticipation. I’ve been in a place where I dread writing, usually because I am exhausted and the deadline is looming, but most of the time I like sentence by sentence act of putting the story together. It makes me happy. Yesterday, when my husband and I were working the latest installment of our serial, we laughed half of the time, because we kept making it more and more out there. For me, this is where the real joy of it is. How much cool stuff can I cram into one scene?
The signings, the interviews, the ecstatic reviews, and all of the attention is very fleeting. We finished IRON AND MAGIC and it blew everyone’s expectations out of the water in terms of reader receptions and units sold. But that lasted maybe a week. Having written doesn’t last, unless you manage to produce a classic.
And truly, after awhile, the excitement of receiving all of that attention fades. At least it did for me.
So, to circle back, I don’t have a magic answer for you. You can work hard in this business and still fail commercially and critically. But I do know that those who make it in the entertainment industry tend to love what they do. They are the musicians staying up too late to rewrite a song for the twentieth time and drag their equipment into hole in the wall bars just so they can play. They are the artists who rip apart a sketch on which they worked for a month and start over, the actors who rehearse the part over and over, and the writers who spend hours at the keyboard. We do this because we love the process itself. It is compelling, and it makes us fulfilled.
We love the grind.
So my advice is, make sure what is it you truly want. Is it the accolades at the end of the journey or the journey itself? Because if it’s the accolades, it’s honestly not worth it. If it’s the writing itself, keep going. Keep doing what you are doing. Read good books. Rip them apart to figure what works. Write a story that moves you. Submit it. You might “make it” or not, but if it brings you joy, it is time well spent.