What is a roaring secret, you might ask?
It’s not hidden at all. It’s something said over and over again by those who understand it, vocally, publically, loudly – and it’s also completely ignored.
The ones who ignore it are the ones who claim it’s a secret. I almost can’t blame them. After all, the secret involves hard work.
Persist, no matter how long it takes.
The “secret” to getting published is roared loudly. Agents, published authors, editors, and more say it with regularity. They put it in books, in blogs, in interviews, in places both free and pay, repeating each other and making it very clear. What is that secret? It comes in five parts.
1. Psychotic Persistence. The wonderful and award-winning Jay Lake coined this phrase after – in his words – “ten years of fairly serious aspirations and a lot of work, but hundreds of rejections and zero sales.”
Ten years. I want you to think about this. Ten years without a sale. Part of me says, “I couldn’t possibly last that long without real validation from an objective source.” The rest of me points out I’ve already been going for four. Those four have slipped by so quickly – and I’ve gained courage, honed skill, and learned enough to know things like “I need an agent.” I’ve also worked past a lot of my irrational fears. “What will THEY think if I actually write that word/that scene/what I’m thinking?” Yeah, that’s a bad one.
Accept that it’s going to be flawed.
2. Acceptance that it will never be “good enough.” No, this is not in direct contradiction to the point above: it’s a simple acknowledgement of the fact that we artists, we creators and writers and painters, can always see things that need improvement in our own work. NYT bestselling author Lilith Saintcrow said it bluntly and powerfully here. Yes, the day comes when we’ll admit it’s ready to submit. The day comes when we we know it’s time to send our souls into the world – but we see the flaws. We see flaws no one else sees. We see flaws so horrifying that if we focused on them, they’d paralyze us, leaving us quivering in corners and shiny with drool.
To us, deep down, it’ll never be good enough because it’ll never be perfect. Accepting “it’ll never be perfect” means that at some point, we CAN put the piece down and say, “okay. It’s ready. Even though it isn’t perfect. I can let go now.”
3. Learn, learn, learn. So you’re not going to quit, even though you know your work will never be perfect – and point three is the balance that keeps you from sliding off either end of that seesaw. Don’t stop learning. Don’t stop reading. Look at those who’ve come before and trodden this hard road with grace and perseverance, and listen to what they said. What have I learned?
Never stop learning.
To read things like agent Nathan Bransford’s Writing Advice Database or this fabulous list of resources for better query letters. To remember that “real” authors – even famous ones, like John Steinbeck - get bad reviews and that isn’t the end of their careers. To pay attention to helpful posts like Chloe Neill’s Write What You See or agent Colleen Lindsay’s How to Work With Your Publicist. To behave professionally at all times. Not like this. Or this. To follow submission rules. To avoid dissing people on the internet. Negative statements are forever, thanks to the power of the cached page. To find friends. Make friends. Keep friends. Network, network, network. Don’t be afraid to join a critique workshop. If you don’t have the courage to let someone objectively read your story in the privacy of a locked forum, how are you going to handle public scrutiny?
4. Find inspiration wherever you can. Lilith Saintcrow’s post “If I’d Listened” is one I return to a lot.
Find inspiration wherever you can.
So is this charmingly simple but effective “Compare Yourself to Pixar” video, by comic artist Josh Mirman. Figure out what music inspires you. What movies, what books, what people make you WANT to create – and make sure to get a good dose of those things/people often.
5. Don’t let the doubt swallow you whole. I have a lot of doubts. They come from guilt, from screwy beliefs, from childhood damage I’m still not ready to face. The fact is that I won’t always get support from other people. I won’t always have it from the Ones I Want
Fight the doubt – you will win if you don’t give up.
To Tell Me I’m Good At This. The fact is, I have to believe it inside. I have to want it badly enough to keep working through rejections, through difficult learning periods, through the times I just don’t feel like writing, or maybe feel like that mountain peak (Mt. Publishing. There’s lightning up there) is too hard to climb. I have to just keep going. I have to believe.
Know what I’ve discovered? Doubt doesn’t have the same staying power that I do. If I keep going, eventually it gasps and falls behind, clutching its hideous little chest.
It’ll eventually catch up again, but I know the solution: I must Keep Moving Forward.
The roaring secret is clear. I’m taking it to heart. I won’t let mistakes stop me. One way or another, I’m getting to the top of that mountain. I’m walking on an already-blazed trail. I hope the tiny bits I’m blazing help those who come behind me the way I’ve been helped.
I’m gonna go write a chapter.