Red Responds: She Wants to Be a Famous Novelist

Anitha in India writes:

I graduated college five years ago. Since then, my career has been going downhill. I switched employment three times in four years, and each job paid less than the previous one. Finally last April I started to work as a freelance writer. I don’t make much, but it helps me to pay the bills.

My real ambition is to become a famous novelist. There are times when I feel confident of my writing skills, but more often I grapple with an absolute lack of faith in my capabilities. And that always paralyzes me. Days go by when I haven’t written a word. I feel depressed, and I keep moping . Finally, with great determination and help from my partner, I try to get back to a routine. And I feel very happy when I put words on paper. But this turns out to be a temporary phase, and my ambition to become a novelist takes the backseat while I focus on daily work. I understand it all boils down to lack of confidence – and determination and faith. But I often find myself unable to snap out of this negative reality I am building around myself. I would appreciate any words of advice you can give me.

Dear Anitha,

Whether you realize it or not, being a freelance writer has already laid a bit of groundwork. While “freelance” writing may have less prestige in certain circles, this does not negate the fact that you are a published professional. I know this is a far cry from being a famous novelist, but everyone has to start somewhere, right? With you, the starting is easy – it’s the finishing that trips you up!

You have the talent, ability, and discipline to become a successful novelist, but you allow mundane issues to distract you from following your passions. This is a protective measure, because you have a coping mechanism that tells you it is easier to live with regret rather than failure. Your fear of failure, compounded by guilt over doing what you love rather than the endless list of what you “should” be doing, eats away at your determination. Recognize that this is a counterproductive cycle, and break it. Even if you only write for an hour a day, those single hours (and you know how fast time flies when you’re writing!) can add up to a completed manuscript much more quickly than you think.

Once your masterpiece is written, the grueling part begins – unless you want to self-publish. It’s that scary, dreaded process of submissions. Fear of that phase keeps you from finishing up and following through right now. Yes, strangers are going to read and judge your work, and you’ll have to brace yourself for those nice, polite letters of rejection. I swear they are unavoidable, no matter who you are – or how good. Rejection happens! This is when you have to steel your spine, grit your teeth, and understand the process. Look at every rejection as a level of success, because your work presented itself as interesting enough to have at least been breezed through.

Frequently, rejection of a submission has less to do with your talent and creativity than it does with whose hands opened your submission. Rejection doesn’t mean you stink – it just means you have to resubmit. If you are very lucky, your rejection will come with a personal note. That is your first real badge of success. Even though you aren’t getting picked up, someone “in the know” thought you were good enough to comment on, even if the comment is a bit critical. The realm of fiction is tough, and it is a for-profit industry. What it boils down to is: Are you and your story marketable? The bottom line really is all about, well, the bottom line.

Write because you love writing. Submit because your works deserve to be read. Resubmit because your works landed in the hands of an idiot – and then make sure the cycle repeats again.

I’m not going to lie to you – your success in fiction looks like it is still years away, but some of that timeframe has a lot to do with your procrastination. At the very least, through diligent effort you will beat the odds and get your stories out there.

When you are doubting yourself or all that you can achieve, pull some strength from these immortal words: “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” – Thomas Edison. The man was right!

Good luck!
Ext. 9226

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