Tag Archives: professional

Coping with Failure

Fire

Last night, I received my royalty statement for the third quarter for the last book I published in 2015. After viewing the sales and returns, the release of the reserve funds, and the final payment, an avalanche of emotion overwhelmed me.

I am a failure.

Not only can I not support myself as a writer, but I cannot earn enough to call myself a professional either. I am a hobbyist, as a co-worker at my day job called me.

A hobbyist.

To me, that is synonymous with failure.

After all, I devoted 30 years to writing, starting out with the first poem I published for $5.00 to the first article I wrote for $35.00 to the first book excerpt I sold for $2,000.00. But if I cannot pay my mortgage and put my child through college, I cannot call myself a professional writer.

That wave of emotion I felt consumed me for a couple of hours. I sat, editing chapter 28 of my book, a manuscript that is incomplete and hardly worth the paper it is printed on, when I realized sadly my status as a writer has nothing to do with time or talent. . .just sales and net income. Fans will go out of their way to pay for a copy of my work, and new readers still email me to say how much they enjoyed my writing and ask when the next book will come out.

I am, theoretically, a success since I am good at what I do and there is a market for it.

But, technically, if you define success as whether or not you can support yourself financially with your talent or your craft, then I am a failure.

To me, I am a failure because others call me a hobbyist. If I was a stay-at-home author, then others might not place the same label on me. But they have, and it hurts.

It hurts as much as the other labels I wanted and failed to achieve: wife and friend. I am no longer a man’s wife and am currently devoted to a man who has professed his desire to never remarry, which, therefore, eliminates the possibility that I might have an opportunity to reclaim that title and make things work the second time around, if I choose to stay with him. I have also lost the majority of my friends during my divorce and have yet to find replacements, which makes life rather lonely.

I could list other things I have failed at, but what would the point be?

Everyone has failed at one time or another. The important factor is how to move on beyond it and find the motivation and desire to continue to pursue something else, regardless of the consequences.

Most endeavors do not contain any guarantees of success or failure. They are born of hope and pursued with faith. The outcome is independent of the process.

It remains to be seen whether or not I accept the label of hobbyist and resign myself to my small corner of literary life complete with the knowledge I will always need a patron of the arts to support me, even if that patron is myself. All I know right now in this moment is I have to create because it is who I am as a person, whether that creativity takes shape as a book or a painting. To know who I am, regardless of the labels others choose to give me, is enough to sustain the battle wounds and continue with the journey. I am who I am, and no failure can change that.

Intensely Personal

I’ve spent the first half of my life as a confessional writer, beginning with the poetry I wrote in high school and ending with the memoir that was published last year.

Now I don’t feel like sharing my intimate writing with the world anymore.

It’s not that I don’t have anything to say, but that everything I want to express is too close to the bone, too personal, without that professional distance even a confessional writer needs.

But that doesn’t mean I’m not writing. I’m writing a lot, every other day, even though I feel like I could write all the time, only my schedule does not allow it, at least for now while I’m preoccupied with other things that are temporarily more important.

Does that mean my professional writing is postponed a little while longer? I don’t know. I’ve spent the last week reaching out to old contacts who had requested articles and essays and short stories from me. I’ve let people know I’m back, but I’m not anxious. I’ve already begun to write that slow, painful dance of trying to contain the emotions that are spilling onto the paper and rein them in as words. Most days I spend crying when I’m not writing. After all, I have 20 pounds of emotions to purge from the previous year. It’s not going to happen overnight.

From experience, I know when I’m done I’ll be a better person and a better writer, deeper, clearer, more empathetic than I already am. And, hopefully, the words will become less personal and more professional, and I’ll be ready to publish again.

Daughter Knows Best

Trust a Teen or a Publishing Professional?

Last year, amidst the holiday celebrations, I received a letter from my literary agent stating she would no longer represent me. The New York publishers she had pitched my young adult novel to had told her the plot wasn’t engaging enough and the main character was too young.

My daughter tried to encourage me by telling me she would help me rewrite the book so it would attract the attention of another literary agent who would finally sell it.

She kept her promise, read the novel, and critiqued it.

While she was reading and critiquing, I researched current publishing trends. I read young adult novels from The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants to Smart Girls Get What They Want. I filled notebooks with magazine articles and blog posts detailing teen speech patterns, habits, fashion, and concerns. I volunteered to be near teens and chronicled first-hand encounters of student-teacher interactions, relationships between peers, and tensions between grade-levels. I witnessed teens sending secrets texts while pretending to pay attention in class. I overheard stories about how they pirate e-books and music for free from online sites.

When my daughter and I sat down to compare notes on how to approach the rewrite of my young adult novel, our views vastly differed. I wanted to set the novel in present time to use my research, but my daughter wanted to keep the historical context. “It would be fun to learn about a time before cell phones and iPods,” she said. I wanted to start over from page one, but my daughter wanted me to beef up the plot by deepening the romance between the main character and the boy-next-door.

“Rewriting the whole book is a waste of time,” she said. “You only need to change a few things.”

Changing only a few things in the scope of a novel seems daunting. I rewrite like an auto mechanic overhauling an engine. I do not know how to rewrite a book like an auto mechanic performing a tune-up on an otherwise solid engine. But that’s exactly what my daughter had asked me to do.

Of course, I don’t want to listen to her. After all, she’s a teen with limited experience, not a professional who can negotiate a lucrative publishing contract and advance my career. But she insists she knows what she is talking about, as a teen and as a reader. And, being a mother, I have decided it would be best to listen. Because even if the book never reaches hundreds of thousands of teens, it will reach my daughter, who is the only teen who really matters anyway, right?