You know how in the movie The Sixth Sense, the boy keeps running into dead people who want his help? I’m beginning to feel the same way about characters. For the last two weeks, I’ve got this real bitch of a woman tap-tap-tapping on my shoulder, demanding my attention. Finally, yesterday, I had to sit down and write her into being. Now she’s smug and satisfied. She’ll be, shall we say, an unsympathetic character.
I guess novel #3 has begun.
I’ve got a bunch of research to do for this one before I can start writing, and I love this part of the process. Just playing around, exploring, getting to know the world of the story. I’m traveling next month so I’ll probably just read, make notes, and let the ideas ebb and flow before I actually commit anything to paper. And, if I have no more revisions to do for the novel I’ve just finished, I’ll start writing it in January or February.
It is bizarre to me that exactly two years ago, I had finished zero novels and now I’m about to start my third. I also had only a couple of published books, and now I have eight.
It is a feeling of awe that I am intimately familiar with. Because ten years ago, I experienced the exact same thing with my freelancing career.
Years of putting in the work and making the effort for what felt like little reward, then a tipping point, a sudden series of moments when everything seemed to be working for me and with me, rather than against me. The turning of the tide so that I, already in momentum with all the hard work I’d been doing for several years, suddenly found myself racing along at record speeds, getting published pretty much anywhere I pitched, making more money than I’d ever seen in my life, winning awards, and getting calls from editors at top publications giving me assignments.
The key point in all this was that I was able to gain speed because I already had momentum. I’d been pitching, writing, getting better at reporting and telling stories all along. I was making consistent efforts to not only get work, but to go out and report stories, see people, find ideas, and write as much as I could even when I had no traction, so that when the opporunities did finally arrive, I was able to not only confidently accept them, but deliver the excellence that my editors expected and desired.
I see so many writers struggling, especially with all the changes that we’ve experienced in our industry in the last decade, and many will quit when things aren’t working, assuming that they either aren’t good enough or don’t fit into this new world. They walk away from the whole thing in a huff, only to then return because it’s still something they want to do, and it’s still something that makes sense to do, even though it didn’t work the last time. They stop-start-stop-start constantly, never allowing themselves to build the momentum they so desperately need. This breaks my heart, mostly because it’s such a natural and instinctive response and because it is so damn difficult to constantly face rejection and failure and still keep going.
I know because I’ve done it.
I did it with my freelancing. I did with my business. And I’m doing it now with my fiction.
Don’t like the first book? No worries, I’ll write a second. No? Here’s a third and a fourth and a fifth and a sixth.
Because I intend to keep writing them.
When I first met Sam, my husband, over a decade ago, I used to walk around with a copy of TIME magazine in my bag. It was the only thing I ever wanted back then, to be able to write for this magazine. It was all I could ever think or talk about. During our first conversation, I told Sam that one day I’d be published in TIME magazine, just watch. One day they’d come to me asking for stories. One day I’d be a regular contributor. Our first date lasted ten hours. I’m pretty sure I talked about TIME for nine of those ten hours.
I had collected at least a dozen rejections from the magazine by this point and had one story accepted and then pulled because of a timing issue. But I was adamant that I was going to write for them someday or die trying.
I didn’t die trying. And someday came sooner than I thought. Two months later, I had my first published piece in the magazine.
A year later, I joined their team of freelance correspondents in South Asia.
It all worked out perfectly, so of course that is what I (and perhaps you) focus on. But should we talk about how shitty I felt when I was collecting the dozens of rejections? When I repeatedly had to borrow money to pay my (incredibly low) rent? When an editor generously offered to give me an advance on stories I hadn’t yet written so that I wouldn’t be so incredibly distracted by money issues? When pitch after pitch after pitch came back rejected? When it seemed as though nothing was working?
I can look back and see how determined I was. But there was no guarantee that I’d ever make it.
My career has changed. My dreams have changed.
These days I walk around telling everyone that one day I will be a bestselling award-winning author. There is, of course, no guarantee that I will make it. But I am just as determined as the twenty-five year version of me was.
I am writing the third book, the fourth book, the fifth book. Because when I reach the tipping point and the opportunities come knocking, I will already have momentum. I will have speed. I will not only be able to confidently accept these opportunties, but deliver the excellence that will be expected and desired.
It would be easy to give up belief or fall into a stop-start pattern like so many do, but that would be a mistake.
Because success may be, like it was once, only two months away.
And when it comes, I’ll be ready. I’ll have work to show.