Last week our baby graduated as a CNA from Job Corps. Along with nearly a hundred other capped and gowned students, she walked the traditional processional, sat through the traditional speeches, and shook the traditional hands. The next night we threw a surprise party for her with a dozen of her friends in attendance. …A dozen energetic, excited tweenagers can make the walls of a modest-sized home bulge—and feeding the crew breaks the bank at Monte Carlo. But her accomplishment was, for her, a tremendous step and we wanted her to know that we recognized it as such.
One would think that completing the requirements and passing the state boards for a CNA certification would not be such a big deal. Our daughter is a pretty, intelligent, relatively popular teenager who has a host of friends, both young and old. Unfortunately, she also has a deep-seated fear of the work-a-day world and zero confidence in her ability to cope away from her secure little corner of the universe. For her to leave home for four months and live with people she did not know was a major accomplishment.
Hence the party—a celebration of a huge milestone passed.
I think we, as writers, tend to be a lot like my daughter. Perhaps we’ve had an agent who was unethical—she had such a boss. Maybe a publishing house has jacked us around—for her it was another boss. Perhaps we’ve been unable to find anyone capable of seeing the value of our efforts—a year ago last fall she went from being shift manager and employee of the month because of her work ethic to being fired by the incoming manager for being quote,‘incapable of doing the job’, unquote, the month after. He wasn't willing to train her in the way he wanted her to perform. He simply let her go.
Like my daughter, many of us have faced rejection after rejection…sometimes even from those who should be the most supportive. On top of that, we fight writer’s block. We can visualize the story in our minds but it just won’t translate to paper. And frequently we, ourselves, are our own worst critics.
Whatever the external causes, many of us become fearful, unsure—crippling ourselves by listening to that internal nitpicker who bedevils us unmercifully. We start a project only to become discouraged and let it slide. Our shelves and file drawers are filled with manuscripts that are incomplete, or abandoned even though we’ve finished them. There’s that story in the back of our minds that’s been there for years but it lacks a certain, specific detail that we feel unqualified to find. Like my daughter, it’s easier to hide ourselves and our talents away in the security of our little worlds, than it is to get out there and shine.
For me, there’s the constant fear of rejection. I have to push myself to finish what I’ve begun in the field of writing. I have to hold a goal in front of myself—a very juicy something that I really want to have—as a reward for succeeding in my writing career. If it weren’t for that goal, that carrot dangling before my nose, I’d quit. There are a gazillion other things I’d rather be doing than spending ten to fourteen hours a day trying to pound out something someone will hopefully want to read. And, believe me, every single one of those desired activities pops into my mind the instant I find myself fumbling for just the right word, or struggling to craft a seamless bridge between two scenes, or trying to talk myself into ruthlessly hacking away superfluous stuff. And when the hatchet comes out, favored adjectives come to mind…and I don’t mean just the ones I’m hacking, either. At that point it would be so easy to slip back into the safe little sphere I occupied before I decided my stories had to be written down.
What does this have to do with my daughter’s graduation? Quite a bit, actually.
As her parent, I’m desperately hoping that she’ll finish the education she has begun. I don’t care if she doesn’t stay in the medical field. Personally, I was shocked when she decided to travel down that route in the first place. Her squeamishness around needles came vividly to mind the day she announced her intentions. So, if she wants to study something else, that’s fine with me. What is not fine with me is the idea that she might come back home and hide in her little corner like she’s done these past two years since her high school graduation. Once, when I was badgering her about applying at the nearby junior college, she asked, “But what if I get my Associates Degree and still don’t know what I want to do?” My reaction was, “And what if you get your Associates Degree and you DO know what you want?” My point being that she’d never know unless she tried.
Neither will we know unless we try. Will someone other than our loyal family and friends enjoy our stories? We’ll never know as long as they’re deposited, half-finished, in a drawer. We’ll never know unless we search out agents who are interested in our specific projects. We’ll never know unless we glue our seats to the chair, struggle through those pitch-line constructions, then write and send those query letters. Not just once. Not twice. But as many times as it takes to find the markets we seek.
At this point, an acquaintance comes to mind. What was it? One hundred eighty-plus rejections before she sold her first novel? One hundred eighty-plus times someone said, “No. It isn’t good enough for me to represent.” Now the book that one hundred eighty-plus agents rejected is being printed by a major publishing house. Like that intrepid woman we, my fellow writers, should never give up. Never, never give up!
And when your elusive success is finally obtained, when that elusive perfect agent is finally found, and that elusive publishing house has sent the advance, have a party on me. You’ll have earned it.