(For those of you too young to know, this is the late Madeline Kahn in Blazing Saddles. Check her out on YouTube singing "I'm Tired." She was AMAZING!)
I'll let you all in on a little secret. For the past six months or so I have seriously considered giving up on my writing career. I've been at this since 2008. I'm finishing up my fourth book. All four of my books have won contests and received accolades. And how many offers of publication have I received? None. Zero. Zip. Not. Very. Encouraging.
I had reached a point in my writing where I knew there was something missing and had not a single clue as to what it might be. I read voraciously, mostly historical romance. I know good writing when I read it. I know great writing when I read it. Mine is good. Mine is not great. I've searched high and low in my writer's spice cabinet and that damned jar of GREAT is simply not there.
Losing your "GREAT" is one thing. Losing your desire to keep writing is something else entirely. I've been the creative type all my life - music, painting, acting, needlework. The occasional explanation to a state trooper as to why I was doing 98 in a 55. (You do NOT get points for creativity while talking to the police.) Writing has been the one constant in my creative life. It is part of my soul and I have a feeling losing it might just push me over the edge.
(Those of you who think I have already gone over the edge and am making my way back, just keep that little tidbit to yourselves. The guys in the white coats have been trying to throw that butterfly net over me for years.)
A couple of things came together in the past several weeks and I sort of gave myself an ultimatum. I wanted a sign, any sort of sign, that I wasn't supposed to give up. I was a finalist in a big contest and my dream editor was the final judge. I was attending a really great conference and the workshops and my pitch appointments looked promising. Well you know what they say about the best laid plans, don't you? FUGGEDABOUTIT!!
Didn't win the contest. Came in dead last. Pitch appointments went really well. Workshops were fantastic. The synopsis one alone was worth the price of admission.
'Nuff said !!
BUT, I came to the (briefly) devastating realization my dream editor, who has placed all four of my books first in several contests, while she may like my work, or my voice, or maybe just the fact I can spell, is never going to buy one of my books. She just isn't. SOB!
BUT, knowing who isn't going to buy your book is a handy piece of information to have. It saves a lot of wasted time and effort. (Hey, I'm trying to be Little Mary Sunshine here! Those of you who know me know how difficult that is for me. I'll probably sprain something if I keep it up.)
I won a couple of things in the fund raising raffle at this conference. One was a Scottish themed bag donated by Scott McKinley. Let me tell you, the mouse pad in the bag is one of the most inspirational pieces of swag I've ever seen. You could bounce a quarter of the guy's .... never mind. Where was I? Oh yes!
Writers get that way. Especially aspiring 'really want a contract with a publisher writers.' You get tired of rejection. You get tired of the ups and downs. You get tired of sitting there staring at a blank page or staring at a page of crap that stares back and tells you you're ugly and your mama dresses you funny. (Hey, they're my pages! I'll write their dialogue however I want to!)
I won something else at this conference. I won a critique. Not just any critique, but a critique by a published historical romance author whose work I love and admire. I was truly surprised I won as a number of people wanted this critique. But I got it! And I sent my partial and synopsis off to this author and prepared myself to be handed my head. We writers are masochistic that way.
And she did hand me my head. She ripped through my pages like Jason chasing Jamie Lee Curtis. And her critique was ... nothing short of a revelation. The thing that's been missing from my writing, that thing, she nailed it. She challenged me to rise above the cliche, to get creative with some of the most ordinary things on those pages. She nailed those changes which will take my book to the next level. Those problems I just couldn't see she saw. She gave me suggestions and ideas and insights to improve my craft, not just my story. And she did it with humor and intelligence and with the clear understanding my writing was good, but these things could make it great. So THAT's where my great was hiding - in another writer's cupboard.
And how do I feel about all of this?
BUT, I've decided I can't give up. Not just yet. I want to see what these insights will do to my stories. I want to try. I want to do this. Because another writer, someone whose work I admire, took the time to read my work, to tell me what she loved about it (and there were things she loved) and then told me how to make it better. I owe it to myself. I owe it to my characters. I owe it to all of the people who have believed in my work all of these years. And I owe it to the writer who took time out of her schedule (She writes and has a day job.) to show someone else the way.
This is not an easy gig. And I think each and every one of us reaches a point where we have to decide if it is worth it. We reach a place where we wonder what else we can do to improve our craft or take our work beyond just good. The difference between good and great is often grit - the willingness to admit our own shortcomings and sometimes even our own laziness. Writing is not for sissies. Anyone who tells you it is, is selling something.
I'm reminded of a line from a David Allan Coe song about an Alabama-born master storyteller.
"Cause if you're big star bound let me warn ya, its a long, hard ride."
Have you ever thought about giving up on your writing dream? What helped you to stay in the game? Has anyone ever given you a critique or advice or a pep talk that helped you to stay on the long, hard ride to publication? Tell us about it!