When I was three years old, I had a temper tantrum. I can just hear the “big deal” forming in your brain as you yawn and start looking for something more interesting to read. Stick with me. I do have a point.
The upshot of this tantrum is that, at three years of age, I knew with every fiber of my tiny being that I wanted to write stories. Now! And I wanted to write them in cursive. Sure, I was precocious, but fully articulated stories with a beginning, middle and end written in cursive? Well, that would be genius territory.
I stood on tip-toe to reach the drawer that housed the pencils and paper, and when I couldn’t reach the drawer handle, I dragged a chair over, climbed up and pulled every pencil from the drawer and all the tablets I could hold. Parked on the kitchen floor, sitting in a circle of pencils and paper, I scribbled for the better part of half an hour, shrieking when it didn’t make sense. I rolled on the floor crying and pleading with my mother to tell me the secret that would make me a writer. She tried to get me to form letters with crayons, patiently explaining that I needed to learn the alphabet first. I threw the crayons across the room, screaming, “That’s for babies!” Exhausted with my refusal to listen or play with other toys, she finally gave up and left me to howl out my frustration until I fell asleep, my face plastered to a tear-soaked tablet, the pencil clutched hard in my hand.
Years later, the details of this memory are less vivid, but that white-hot burning desire to write is just as intense. That urgent voice telling me to write was drowned out for while, lost in the din of naysayers that seemed to surround me; a husband who wanted me to earn as much money as possible before I die. Friends who were probably worried that I wasn’t good enough, discouraged me when I said I wanted to be a writer. The message was the same from person-to-person. “You’ll spend your whole life broke and hungry.”
I ignored what I knew in my gut. I listened and added the weight of their fear about “never making it” to mine. I earned a master’s degree in a field that offered me a “secure, well-paying job” instead of pursuing the one thing in this life that has made me the happiest: A writing career. People were very impressed. I was miserable. After 17 years in that secure, well-paying job, I hit a fork in the road and had to choose ethics or employment. I chose ethics.
Rather than seeing myself as unemployed, I decided to see this as my second chance to do what I should have been doing all along. And then the voices started again. This time, not from well-meaning friends or relatives, but from the last place I expected: Other writers. Starting a new career, learning the plethora of rules of publishing, the guidelines, finding platforms and learning to market my work, not to mention mastering the learning curve that comes with self-publishing, is enough to freeze any newbie in her tracks. It seems that everywhere I turn, there is some blog, podcast or article telling me to stop writing and give it up before I even get started. We all know the drill. We are but grains of rice in the vast publishing (and self-publishing) paddy.
Traditional publishing may be loosening its iron-fisted grip on the industry with the advent of self-publishing, but the attitudes are pretty much the same. People who should know better, who are fighting or have fought the same battle to be published as we new writers spend a great deal of energy discouraging us. They not only make us feel small, but encourage us to think small as well.
What coach ever takes his team out to the field and proceeds to tell them all the ways they are going to fail? How many games have you watched where the players stand around commiserating about the impossibility of winning before they start to play? Coaches understand that the players mental state is as important as his or her level of skill. That’s why they have cheerleaders.
As a hungry new writer, I listen to dozens of podcasts, looking for advice, encouragement and guidance. It is surprising at how many podcast hosts or guests promote a “writing show” or offer “writing advice” but proceed to talk negatively about writing as a career. The real purpose of these podcasts, it seems, is to promote the host/author’s book. One author, when asked what advice he had for new writers, stated, “Don’t do it. There are too many of us as it is.”
Using the podcast to promote a book is fine, but luring aspiring writers under the guise of offering useful information, and then discouraging them from pursuing a writing career is pure exploitation. If a book is good, I’ll buy it. If the podcast is helpful, I may even buy it whether it’s good or not. Asking me to buy the book but to give up on writing because of the many pitfalls involved is a questionable marketing tool. I won’t be motivated to write or buy the author’s book. I will probably be searching for the Xanax instead.
Though legitimate, high quality writing podcasts can fire me up to write, I don’t really need to look outside for inspiration or motivation. I’ve always had it, even as a three-year old girl who knew exactly what she wanted to do: get her stories on paper in a way that made sense. This is the secret to being a successful writer; listening to your heart, writing from that place, and putting the words on the paper in a way that makes sense.