Everyone has talent. What is rare is the courage to follow the talent to the dark place where it leads. -- Erica Jong
There has been a lot of talk about risk in the Charles household this year. After seven years of practice, Mr. Charles has decided to start his own law firm with two of our colleagues. Being lawyers, the four of us have had long discussions about risk, sacrifice, and trusting in the unknown as we’ve all tried to figure out whether it’s worth diving off the proverbial cliff for a chance at a better life. Every single detail of this move has been planned, from the space to the reclaimed wood conference room table to the decision to go paperless, but at a certain point, it’s all a deep, dark unknown. We know what we’re starting with, but we aren’t completely sure what the journey will entail. We simply believe it’s a journey worth taking.
|Divin' off some cliffs, takin' some risks...|
I'm not leaving Day Job to join them, but it’s a risk I’m sharing, and I’ve taken the discussions we’ve had and applied them to writing. Let’s be honest: writing is a risk. There is the risk of time spent. I don’t even want to think about all the hours it takes me to write a book. It takes lots and lots of hours over months, and there’s always the risk that the end result will be unpublishable. Or terrible. Or both.
Writing is a financial risk, as well. I refer to my writing as the third shift of my day (after Day Job and Family Job). I don’t make much money doing it, and it took years before I made a cent. My first dollar in publishing came in 2010 when I sold a 5k short story to a literary magazine for thirty dollars. That’s less than a penny per word. Another publication paid me in contributor’s copies, which are great if you’re out of kindling. I could have picked up a different job doing almost anything else and made more money with all of the time I’ve spent writing.
So why do it?
I’m not sure. It’s just never occurred to me that I should give up. I even save rejection letters. I have one from Harlequin that I received in July, 2011—about three months before I won New Voices. Here I am, about to publish with Harlequin Romantic Suspense, and that impersonal, form rejection letter still drives me. I like the idea of coming back stronger. Like anyone else, I have plenty of self-doubt, but usually I can recognize doubt for the waste of time that it is. After all, I have words to write and things to prove.
It’s easy to look at someone successful and say, “Of course. She does X better than anyone, and she got lucky when Y hit the shelves.” Fine. But that’s hindsight. That successful person was once like you and me, and success was never a foregone conclusion. That successful person had to rack up her share of rejection, grow stronger and learn from it, and practice, practice, practice.
At some point, writing, like any risk, becomes an act of faith. We have to trust. I’m looking forward to the Olympics this year because I think that those athletes are a shining example of trusting in their own abilities. Think of the time they’ve sacrificed and the many mornings they rose before dawn to practice their sport. These are individuals like us: people born with a talent that they nurtured and a dream of achievement, but success has never been a guarantee. They competed and lost, or were injured, or experienced other setbacks. And they kept coming back and taking the risk until one day they made it.
I have come to accept that there can be no success without risk and, often, some failure. We don’t risk to succeed immediately; we risk to succeed ultimately. Like Mr. Charles, I’m taking a risk because I believe the journey is one worth taking, even if the destination is unknown. At least we’re both in good company.