I decided to resurrect my blog today. After one of the hardest years in our lifetimes, I thought it might be useful if I shared a bit about how I got here, and why you–yes, YOU, my talented and very worthy friend–can, too. I rarely do appearances these days, as I’ve got three precious, high-energy little boys to take care of (kiddos and writing come first), but in the past, the question, “How long did it take you to get published?” was something which always came up during any author talk. I think lots of people are looking for permission to believe in their own dreams, a reason to feel it’s okay to continue–or to begin, for the first time in their lives–reaching for what truly brings them happiness. Now that I’ve got a few books out there for readers to discover, it actually gives me pleasure to say that my road to publication was SEVENTEEN YEARS LONG.
Yep. I want that massive number–nearly two decades of my life!–to smash through any phony-ass, Instagram-pretty, overnight-success-story illusion you have been bombarded with by our frenemy the internet. YOU ARE NOT A FAILURE OR A FOOL IF YOU AREN’T EARNING MONEY FROM YOUR ART RIGHT NOW. OR IF YOU NEVER HAVE. If you’re driven to create in any medium at all, you have a incredible gift inside you which you absolutely deserve to share and earn a living by doing so, but it often takes a lot of hard work and frustration to reach what is regarded as a professional level in any artistic field. It’s my opinion that authors are pressured to become glib, snarky, “pretty” versions of themselves on social media in order to sell a few more books (“Oh, that National Book Award? No big. I’m just that good.”) To act like a celebrity and pretend everything is effortless. God knows I’ve caved and done some stupid stuff online and off for the sake of convincing my publisher that I was really working it. Not proud. I do visit my social media accounts once a day because it’s the best way to interact with readers and run giveaways, but I have no talent for viral posts and my relatively low number of followers speaks to that.
You know what’s unpretty? The years spent in the trenches. Double-digits worth of manuscripts–truly, my blood, sweat, and tears–sitting in a plastic file box. They never found a publisher or won me an agent, and all the while I worked one low-level, zero benefit job after another to pay the bills, taking me from being a teen with big aspirations to a self-proclaimed loser pushing thirty with only a few writing contest wins and minor short story publications under my belt. Sometimes I COULDN’T pay the bills–gasp!–and had to borrow money from my parents. How embarrassing, right? (But thank you, Mom and Dad; you guys have always been there for me.) Literally everyone has gone through hard times financially and has needed to seek help. Ev.er.y.one. Anyone who tries to shame you for doing so is being dishonest about their own experience in order to preserve a false image of themselves and should be ignored. Also unpretty: hundreds of impersonal form rejections, eventually adding up to thousands. Having an editor ask me to make a long list of changes to a manuscript so they could accept it, then having them reject it anyway based on reasons completely out of my hands. Most unpretty of all: depression, frustration, self-doubt, two a.m. insomnia sparked by the terror that I was never, ever going to get my books out into the world no matter how hard I worked, that I could never get past the gatekeepers to the publishing world, and that everyone who ever criticized or doubted me in my life was right to do so.
My advice to you–and I hope you’re still interested at this point–is to LET GO. You can’t control the art world. You can’t control malicious people who want to tear you down and make you feel ashamed of who you are. All you can control is how much of yourself you put into your creative work. Baby, give it ALL. Spill your guts on the page/canvas/software/whatever, because truth resonates. Art is about sharing your truth. Everybody, whether they show it on Twitter or not, has experienced pain, failure, utter joy, crushing loss, and they’ll recognize themselves in your work if you’re willing to expose those unlovely truths. The very best thing you can do RIGHT NOW to improve your art is let go of your fear and defensiveness and frustration for a few hours a week–though I’d suggest working for at least an hour every day–and just let the freefall happen. Roll around in it. MAKE A FREAKING MESS. Even if you only have time to work on weekends or at night after the kids are sleeping, own that time. Be your unpretty self. Then polish, polish, polish your work’s uniquely imperfect face to a shine.
Surround yourself with people who are kind and supportive. This does NOT mean you need a huge social circle; I’m a true introvert and have a hard time making friends (ooh! Another unpretty truth!) But artists need to keep their eyes on the horizon to survive. They need people who help kindle their enthusiasm, not discourage them or damn with faint praise. If 2020 has taught us anything, it should be that life is too short to waste time around people who disrespect us. Hold close those special few who are always there for you, and share your art with them first; they’ll always give the best, most honest advice, and back you up when the rejections are too many and the road ahead just looks too damn long.
You do have what it takes to go after your dreams. Every artist has something worth saying, regardless of race, gender, age, creed, or orientation. Don’t be silenced. Don’t stop trying. Make connections with the people who share your interests and keep slamming your shoulder into that gate until the keepers HAVE to open it for you. Too many times I’ve overheard people actively discourage young artists from trying to make a living at their medium, citing the arts as too difficult, too impractical. Promise me you’ll ignore those people. They’ve given up on their own aspirations and now their only grim satisfaction seems to come from inflicting that same fate on others. I’ve had people say those same things to me. Go for it anyway. Trust me. You’ll never regret not giving up, no matter how long it takes. Don’t let them keep you from the moment where you get to share your story, your image, your creation, with the world.
Don’t let them.