Saturday, July 30, 2011
Does Anyone "Deserve" To Achive Their Dreams?
It still feels like a dream. Hope it does for a long time.
It's been just over a week since I got the call, and, yeah, my head is still spinning. You dream of something for years. You come close more times than you want to count, and when it finally happens, it still comes as a total shock. Not that I believe for a second that the ride is anywhere close to over. The challenges are still ahead. This is one of those things where finally getting on the horse doesn't guarantee you anything but a chance to get out of the gate. Still lots of ways to fall off. But that discussion is for another day.
Today, I want to talk about the word "deserve." Since I posted about my book deal here, on Facebook, Twitter, and anywhere else I could call, text, or e-mail, I've received a ton of great responses. And trust me, each and every one of your comments has just made it that much better. The only thing better than getting great news is sharing that news with the friends who have encouraged you all along the way. I know for a fact that I would not have accomplished the things I have without such great friends.
One thing I've heard a lot from people is that they know how hard I've worked for this and that I deserve the success. I have worked hard. I won't deny that. My awesome wife, Jennifer, and I have done school assemblies too numerous to count, edited reams of paper, attended tons of conferences, classes, library events, and all that writelry jazz. And I have no doubt we'll be doing a lot more work to make Grimville Case Files a success. I am a firm believer if you want your dreams to come true, you have to be willing to put in the blood, sweat, and tears. The things we appreciate the most are the ones that we work the hardest to accomplish.
But the deserving part makes me a little bit nervous. I know what you mean. And I appreciate the thought. At the Whitney Awards this past spring, I saw several friends receive awards and thought, "Yay! That person really deserves that award." Not that the people who didn't win the awards were not deserving as well. But I really thought the books that won were some of the best I had read that year. They deserved to win because they were really well developed, the prose was excellent, and the editing was great.
But what does saying someone "deserves" to get a national deal mean? Is it saying you worked hard? Because lots of other people who have worked as hard or harder than I have haven't gotten a national book deal. Is it saying their writing is deserving? I've read lots of books that "deserved" to published and didn't. Is it like a kind of reward? Does that mean that people who haven't achieved that success yet are undeserving?
Here's my two cents.
First, I think it does take work to reach the point where you can achieve your dreams. I'm always amazed when someone whips out a first manuscript and sells it right away. I can tell you for a fact that I am a much better writer than I was ten years ago. The stuff I wrote back then did not deserve to get published. Sometimes even when it did get published. But I was determined to get better, and with lots of practice, classes, practice, books, practice, advice, and more practice, both my writing and plotting have improved. If you are willing to put in the effort to perfect your craft, you are more deserving than if you don't put in the effort.
Second, as most of you know, rejection sucks. No matter how much self confidence you have, how strong you think you are, having someone tell you that the art you worked so hard to create isn't good enough hurts like crazy. I've listened to or read a gazillion people talk about handling rejection, and it still sucks. But the people who succeed are the ones who somehow find a way to keep going. One of my favorite poems is The Race, about the kid who keeps falling and getting up. But I've played for years with a sequel called The Day After The Race. Because most of the falling and getting back up doesn't take place in front of the cheering crowds. It's just you, your closest friends, and maybe some family members. So if you've put in the work, and cried over the pain of rejection, maybe you do deserve to succeed.
Third, and this is the toughest part to swallow is that just because you deserve to succeed, doesn't mean you will right away. I can think of dozens of people just on this blog who deserve to live their dreams every bit as much or more than I do. If deserving was all that mattered most of my friends would be celebrating their own book deals right now. After you've perfected your craft, survived rejection after rejection, and persevered, it all comes down to a certain amount of pure dumb luck. Today, I happened to have an agent who recognized something I didn't and an editor with the same vision I had. Tomorrow it could be you.
Some of the best writing advice I ever received was from my first agent, Jacky Sach at Bookends Literary Agency. She told me that once you reach a certain point of writing and plotting skill, you become publishable. Then it's just a matter of continuing to write and submit until the right work gets in the hands of the right person at the right time. I think this advice applies whether you are seeking an agent, an editor, or self-publishing. The best don't always succeed first. But if they don't give up they will.
Since most of us here are storytellers or readers, let me give you a story example. Last week, my family and I went camping. As I walked around the lake, I saw lots of people fishing. Some of them had great gear and obvious experience. Others looked like it might have been their first time out. There were lots of people who appeared to have the right bait, the right equipment, and the right experience. They just happened to cast their lines into a spot where the fish weren't biting. Other people using exactly the same thing cast into a different spot and caught fish.
Do people deserve to live their dreams? Yeah, I think they do. But just because you haven't reached yours yet, doesn't mean you don't deserve to any less than someone who has. It just means you need to keep on casting. Sometime next week, I'll try to share my backstory with you, but suffice it for now to say that the book I just sold wasn't the first one my agent pitched. I started Zombie Kid first and it got a less than glowing review at an editor retreat. I took that to mean I should set it aside and work on something else.
The story I got my agent with was a YA title about a teenage demon who lives in Hell. I still love that story, and I think someday with rewriting it will get published. It would have been so easy to write off Zombie Kid. It would have been easy to decide I wasn't publishable when Demon Spawn didn't sell. But in reality, none of that was true. All I needed to do was cast different bait into a different spot in the lake.
Every time you sit down at the computer, every time you send off another query (or shudder, get another rejection) remind yourself that if you've put in the time and developed thick skin and polished your craft you do deserve to succeed. And you will. It's just a matter of time.