Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Sometimes, the hardest thing to imagine is your own success

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Unicorns YesI know this is hard to believe, but writing isn't as glamorous as it seems; blogging, even less so. The only thing I can say for both is the chicks are great, but probably not for the reasons nerdy guys become rock stars.
In a lot of ways, my day job has been the more glamorous one. I've met famous people in my field. I have a publication credit. I've presented at one conference and served as a reader for another. I've even worked for The New York Public Library. Oh yeah, and while I was there, I attended a meeting at Gracie Mansion. I still have the little notepad they gave us to prove it.

While I worked at the library as a career coach, do you think my clients typically asked me about my glamorous career as a career counselor? (I know that sounds repetitive, but that's what I am.) Anyway, a few of them did ask me that, actually, but a surprisingly large number asked me how to become a successful writer and blogger. What did I want to say? I have no idea! When you figure it out, let me know. I still feel that way most of the time.

Social media is fun and I know more now than I did when I first dipped my toes into it, but I can't make a living off of my blog or my writing at the moment. I used to think I could make a living off my writing if I just got the right idea and sent it to the right publisher. Everyone close to me since birth keeps insisting it will happen one day.

I've been telling stories since I could talk. According to my parents, before I knew how to read, I liked to pick up Mao Tse Tung's little red book and pretend to read tales of "The Bunny Wunnies"---a rabbit family I made up. I think it was sort of like I Love Lucy with cottontails. Every Christmas, I would walk around the tree and instead of seeing space between branches where the metal rod showed through, I'd see little rooms lit by twinkle lights where the animal-shaped ornaments talked to each other. I'm not sure what they talked about, but as I remember it, they had lively conversations. This was wonderful exercise for my imagination, but I think it convinced my parents and their friends that I was loopy. In a weird way, that only seemed to validate their hypothesis that I was meant for the creative life; imaginative and kinda crazy.

Okay, so I talked to myself, but what about writing? I've done plenty of that too. I wrote a lot of picture books for myself. I painted things. I named my paintings. My parents submitted paintings of mine to an art show in a fancy resort town in Colorado---and I won a prize. No, seriously. The submission was a joke, but I won for real. I have no idea why. As for the writing bit, I've been doing that for as long as I can remember, but I finished my first novel when I was 15 or 16. Note that I say first novel. I've written others, but they haven't been published yet.

If you're thinking about being a writer, here are a few things to keep in mind. You don't have to take it from me. Obviously, I'm not published yet, but, I have picked up a few things that nobody told me and I wish I knew:

  • Read widely in your genre and review books if you can.
  • Participate in a good critique group. Reading rough manuscripts is painful and you'll see writing that makes baby Jesus cry, but it's amazing how much I've learned from the mistakes of others. It saves me the time of making all of them myself.
  • Write a lot.
  • Get to know your favorite authors. Write them letters. Read their blogs. This is a lonely profession. You need friends and they do too. Just don't do anything creepy.
Oh yeah, and rejection sucks, but I don't let that get to me too much because I've been through so much of it on various job searches. For that, here's some advice from me that I have used: if whoever is rejecting your work can't see the value in it, you don't need them.

Believe in the value of what you do every day. When you can't believe, imagine you believe because it's all about persistence.