It was 17 years ago this month that I first got it into my head that I wanted to be a 4 Real writer. As in, paid. As in, professionally paid. I am thankful nobody told me then, at age 18, that it would be almost two decades before I’d get my first taste of bona fide pro success. And while I am not — yet! — permitted to speak on that success, I do want to reflect a little on what went into achieving the milestone.
138 rejections and 870,000 words.
The bulk of those rejections and those words have fallen in two periods: 1995 to 1998, and 2006 to 2009. Two four-year bursts of short production activity, in between which I fooled around with several novel projects, the largest of which went 100,000 words before I realized it was a hopeless, bloated mess, and stepped away. So I can’t really say that it’s been 17 years of constant, arduous effort. More like, surges of activity directly followed by long troughs of relative inactivity.
During which I wasted a hell of a lot of time. Oh Lord, so much. A whopping amount. If I’d had more discipline when I was younger, I am sure I’d have reached this point much sooner. Lack of discipline is still my #1 concern, as I now climb over the top of The Wall and survey the new series of obstacles that I have to climb en route to the next goal. Because The Wall is not the end, it is the beginning. Just like making your first basket as an NBA player must feel good, but you have to follow the first basket up with countless others in order to make a career for yourself.
My historical lack of discipline frightens me, because without significant effort on my part to change my own behavior, I risk becoming a one-shot writer; the kind of person who gets one or a handful of credits, then disappears into obscurity.
Still, I can’t feel too bad. Nobody gets to 870,000 words without some kind of effort. And even though almost all of that remains unpublished — and, probably, upublishable — it did get me where I am today. As practice. Practice with the goal of selling, yes, but practice all the same. I couldn’t have reached 500,000 words without first writing 250,000 words, and so on and so forth. Sometimes I despaired over the quality, and other times I felt totally lost, as to what editors frakking wanted in a manuscript, beyond having a Big Selling Name in the byline.
But I made it. And everything I did up to this point, helped get me here.
So don’t give up, all you aspirants out in Aspirantland. 138 rejections and 870,000 words are what it took for me to climb over the top. If you’re more mature and disciplined than I was — am — then it might take you half as many rejections and half as many words. If you’ve got a clearer picture of what it is you aim to achieve — something I am not sure I had in earlier years — you probably are again liable to get to that first pro milestone more quickly and with less heartache than I’ve experienced.
Because it’s worth it. Oh my goodness, it is worth everything!