A good friend of mine received some difficult news today. News my friend was waiting on for quite some time, and news that all of us hoped would come back differently than it did.
In short: this news made my friend very sad.
Few things make me more unhappy than seeing my friends (or family) miserable. When people I care for hurt, and I can’t help them, I feel powerless. I feel lost. To use a redundant word…I feel sad–and worse than sad.
And yet, as luck (or her best friend, Irony) would have it, rejection and sorrow are part of a dreamer’s lot. People who choose to pursue a dream are choosing a road that’s paved with ego bruises, emotional scrapes, and bouts of depression. If a dream is worth achieving, it’s going to require a protracted, and often painful fight.
The problem is, some days you feel you haven’t got any fight left inside you, and getting up just one more time seems infinitely harder than staying down.
I can’t tell you about my friend’s current path, but in the hope that I can give even one person the strength to get up and fight another round, I’ll offer a piece of mine instead: the day I almost accepted “No.”
My path to publication was a nine-year, 500,000 word journey that felt a lot more like the walk to Mordor than a skip down the Yellow Brick Road. Eight years and four manuscripts in, I almost gave up.
It was June of 2011, and I’d recently suffered another round of crushing rejections for my newly-completed manuscript. I’d learned from my prior mistakes, I thought. I’d found a marquee heroine, who lived in a popular period and location. I told the story in first-person (past) tense, to give the reader a stronger connection to my tale.
When I queried, I got requests for the full manuscript … but months later, over and over, all I heard was “no.” I went to conferences. I pitched. The agents liked my voice, my style, but over and over and over again, they “didn’t connect to the manuscript like they hoped to.”
I wanted to quit.
I was tired of fighting. Tired of rejection. Tired of letting my hopes rise up, only to have them stomped back into the mud again … and again … and again.
The problem was, I didn’t know what to do without my writing. “Stop writing,” made about as much sense in my world as “stop breathing” — I couldn’t do either if I tried. And yet, the decision to keep on writing felt as painful (and as stupid) as promising to stab myself in the gut on an annual basis.
Why did I put myself through the pain?
Because the only thing more painful than continuing to write was giving it up.
If I quit, I’d have nowhere to put the stories that spun themselves in my head (and they were going to spin around, regardless of whether I wanted them to). If I didn’t write, I would lose the identity I had claimed since I was four years old. If I gave up the fight, I would never know if somewhere in my heart was the story that I would one day see on the shelf of a bookstore–the characters who would live in someone else’s mind in addition to my own.
If I surrendered, I would never know how close I might have come to success.
What if the very next book was the one that would make it?
I went home from that June 2011 conference with a heavy heart, convinced that I might easily die surrounded by 65 unpublished manuscripts (one a year…you do the math) and at least a dozen cats. I can’t tell you how depressing that was … or how frustrating it was that I had made the decision to do it. (Give or take on the number of cats.)
In late June, I started a brand new story–about a ninja detective who has to find a samurai’s killer in order to save the life of a geisha and a priest.
That story was called SHINOBI. The world now knows it as CLAWS OF THE CAT.
It published almost two years to the day after I finished writing the very first draft.
The moral of this story?
Sometimes it really is darkest right before dawn. That, and you cannot judge the arc of a life, or the odds of a dream coming true, by the place you’re standing at any given moment.
Some days will be wonderful. Others will suck. You will laugh and cry and wonder why on earth you ever thought this dream was a good idea.
DREAM IT ANYWAY. Chase it anyway.
Because life with a dream, no matter how hard, is better than life without one.