It's possible that last summer I may have had a little problem...an addiction of sorts...to all things contest and query related. In fact, there may even have been an element of longing to get noticed or validated. In addition to this, I was also suffering with need-to-write-every-single-second-so-that-I-don't-lose-my-chance syndrome. I believe I caught this from Twitter, where you can find writers galore, contests galore, and constant updates on which writer raked in the good news of the day. Like a good game of poker, it's exciting to be sitting at the table, trying your hand, and seeing if you can stay in the game. It's exhilarating when someone "calls" (or favorites your tweet). There's strategy and technique in crafting the perfect query letter, ensuring that your submission is strong. There's luck in finding the right match for yourself. But there's also the necessity of knowing when to fold. When to back down and realize that the stakes might be 'too rich' for you. It might even be necessary to walk away from the table. Until you're sure you can handle being there. Until you understand that it's not a high stakes, winner takes all game. And until you understand that you, may lose a lot of hands before you finally win.
When you start querying, entering contests, and "showing your cards", you learn what you're made of as a writer (and a person). It is not easy to go from the rush of someone wanting your work to the edge of your seat waiting for them to read it to the hard landing of rejection. It may build character but it also leaves a mark. It is incredibly hard to make yourself understand that they are rejecting your work, not you. Because of course, our work feels like part of us. If you can't face the reality that not everyone is going to love your work, that not everyone is going to want it, or you, even if you thought they might, then maybe you're not ready. Or at least, that is what I learned. I wasn't prepared for the slide down. The attention is wonderful and validating, but the time in between scoops out your self-esteem. And it becomes a cycle. If you let it. If you're writing to prove something or because you think you have to, then you're writing for the wrong reason and it won't be authentic. You have to write because you can't not write. Because it's part of you. If you feel this way, then you'll know, or come to know, that sitting out a round, standing on the edges for a bit, doesn't pull you out of the game. It just lets you breathe.
I sat out the last twitter contest and I thought I would be sorry but I'm not. I like the conclusion that I've come to in the last several months: if I slow down it will not make me disappear. If I don't get an agent, it will not make me stop. But if I had entered the contest, when I finally feel like, okay, I can just breathe and write at the same time, I would have thrown myself back into the cycle. And right now, it's not where I want to be. The point is, you have to know what your limits are, what you can handle, and what you can give. This leads me to my second decision.
I've decided not to participate in the A-Z challenge, which I think looks incredibly cool. Writing a different blog every day for 26 days is a fantastic way to be motivated, be part of something special, and be creative. And I signed up. I even chose a theme (a good one) and organized my drafts file to get myself ready. But then I asked myself, "why"? I have been welcomed into a small community of gracious, funny, and talented writers. I have a support system and a couple of critique partners that I respect. So was I pushing myself because I wanted to just play one more hand or because I felt that this hand would be a building block for the rest of the game. Right now, my building blocks include co-authoring a romantic suspense novel, waiting on agent responses to another romantic suspense novel, being a critique partner, and writing things that I enjoy. I'm putting less pressure on myself to do it all. It all sounds great...but this is how you burn out. It becomes overwhelming and emotionally exhausting if you push yourself past your limit or worse, if you don't recognize you have a limit.
Sitting out and opting out are hard choices as a writer. You feel like, even though everything is moving slower than you ever would have thought humanly possible, there's so much happening around you, without you. And it can become nerve wracking. A friend of mine said this week, "Unless you have an editor breathing down your neck, write for fun or what's the point?" I don't have to spread myself thin trying to be a part of every challenge and every contest. But last summer, I had myself convinced that I did. That if I didn't play every hand, that I'd lose for sure. Really, the only thing I was losing was sleep. And maybe some sanity but that may or may not be tied to writing.
In the last year, my writing has become infinitely stronger. But so have I. By taking away the urgency, I've side-stepped the pressure that I was putting on myself. I've stopped telling myself I have to enter everything I can (though I highly recommend many of the fantastic contests and pitching events you can find on twitter). Instead, I'm telling myself to make what I do write, what I do query, the best it can be. In the process of slowing down, finding balance, and gaining some insight, I may even have become slightly less annoying to those who have to put up with me when I get a little too caught up. One of my favorite quotes is below. That's what I'll aim for. As a person and as a writer.
I am in no way an expert on anything...like anything at all. But I have learned a few things in the last couple of years that I wish I had known when I started thinking I wanted to get an agent or publish a book. Most of the things I've learned seem like common sense, but surprisingly, in the excitement of getting recognition for something that is so personal, we often forget what we know is just good etiquette. Along with that, I've fallen into a few 'things' that I've been fortunate enough to have far smarter people than I help me navigate my way through. So here's a pieces of not-advice-but-something-like-it from someone who is still finding their way.
If you wouldn't say it to someone's face, why would you say it online? You would absolutely think that this is just an accepted truth. However, the internet gives us a certain anonymity (or so we THINK) and there are times when people type before they think. Don't do that.
The only way you get better is by listening to the advice of others. Not everyone, but someone. You have to choose a tribe of people that you trust. That you know want what's best for you, will be honest with you, and can handle you at your worst. If you have people like that, who will read your writing and be brutally honest, with the best of intentions, then trust them. At least enough to truly consider what they're saying.
No agent is better than the wrong agent. This one sucks but it's true. These people are entering a relationship with you. Would you go into a bad relationship, JUST to be in one? There was a time I would have said yes, but as you get older, you learn to care more about your own well-being, Writing is no different. You want someone to be your champion and I am completely convinced (most days) that the right agent is going to be worth the wait.
As in life, envy gets you nowhere. It's easy to be jealous when you hear an announcement from other writers or from agents you stalk- I mean follow. But the thing is, you don't know their story. You don't know how hard their fight to get to where they are was and most of all, if they got there, then they probably had some pretty phenomenal writing. It's too hard to get somewhere in this world if your writing doesn't rise above. So they deserve it and it doesn't make you deserve it less. And, their success doesn't lessen your chances or your talent.
Go with your own style. I've been trying my hand at plotting and it just doesn't work well for me. For the co-authored book I'm working on, yes. But for my own writing, I just can't do it. At least not yet. I like to get lost in my writing and having to plan it all out first, throws me off track. I can always go back and edit and make plot points along the way. As much as I hate the term, I'm a pantser at heart. That's not right or wrong. It's just what works for me.
There's more. There's always more. But that's it for now. Nothing we do is foolproof. There's no list or step by step manual to succeed. There are things you can do to make the ride smoother but basically, you have to do what you should be doing in your life: be who you are, to the best of your ability and hope that good things come to those who wait...politely.