My daughter’s soccer team is called The Fire-breathing Unicorns. They chose this name to represent something strong and graceful – yet menacing – just like them.
Last fall, when the team first started playing together, they were a rag-tag collection of knobby-kneed little girls. Some had never played soccer before, and few, if any, knew the rules. But as the season progressed, they improved. And while watching them develop and grow, I learned some very valuable lessons. Lessons which apply in virtually every pursuit – especially the pursuit of publication.
So, here’s what I’ve learned from The Fire-Breathing Unicorns:
First and foremost, if you fall down, get back up. Immediately. You can’t sit around and wait to see what happens next because if you do, you miss the play. As writers, we know how rejections can knock us to the ground, at least emotionally. But for every time an agent says, “Meh, I just didn’t love it,” you have to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and send another query. Each time you do, you’ll be a little stronger, a little tougher, and hopefully a little wiser.
If you get hurt, you can cry, but only for a minute – then you get back in the game and everyone will cheer for you. Just like falling down, injuries are bound to happen. Maybe the East German judge said your contest entry made her wince (been there!) or the editor who requested a full manuscript passes because, “although she loves your voice and the story, you sound too much like a current client” (been there, too!) No matter what the cause, this is a tough business, and sometimes we have a good reason to cry. Go ahead. Just don’t wallow in it. Move on to the next contest, the next agent, or the next editor.
Rely on your teammates. No one makes it across the field and past the goal posts without passing to another player once in a while. Although writing is an often solitary endeavor, you need the support of friends, other writers, local writing chapters and critique partners. If you write in a vacuum, you’ll never improve. You need to put your writing out there, listen to feedback and use what’s helpful. Sometimes your team might say things you disagree with, and that’s okay. Ultimately it’s up to you to write your story the way you think it should be, but surround yourself with people who are genuinely interested in seeing you win. Then share the victory with them.
Keep chasing the ball! Don’t just kick it and stand still. Follow through and run with it all the way to the goal. In the last few years, I’ve met countless unpublished, un-agented writers who have completed multiple manuscripts. When they finish one, they immediately start writing the next, while continuing to search for an agent or editor. Some of these wonderful writers have been RWA Golden Heart® nominees more than once. They know that eventually, they are going to score. And when they do, they’ll have a body of work to offer their publisher. If you finish just one book and then wait to sell it before starting the next, you are wasting precious writing time. Always, always have a current WIP, because as long as you are working on something, you are moving forward toward your goal. And remember, persistence is the difference between published talent and unpublished talent.
Celebrate the effort, if not a victory. Last week, the Fire-breathing Unicorns faced a team of obviously Viking decent. Those girls were so burly our coach nearly asked for a drug test. And they beat my daughter’s team 5-1. But last autumn, they walloped us 9-0. It was brutal. So this time around, when our one, wily little FBU slipped through their defenses and scored a goal, the whole team felt victorious. Sometimes we have to adapt our idea of success. Rather than berating yourself for remaining unpublished, or sans an agent, or a RITA®, think of how far you’ve come. Maybe you took the leap into cyber-space and finally started your own blog. Or you finished the manuscript that’s been loitering in your brain since you graduated from college. Or perhaps you’ve started answering, “I’m a writer,” when someone asks what you do. These are tiny, personal victories and elements of success. Remember, writing is not all about winning. It’s about progress.
Be a good sport. Always congratulate the other team. Be happy when someone else succeeds. Chances are they’ve worked just as hard as you, and they would be happy for you if you won. Of course, a little professional jealously is natural. We all covet that award or that spot on the NYT Best-Seller list. But jealousy only makes US suffer. It costs us friendships, contacts, and peace of mind. Never be petty about someone else’s achievements. At the end of your life, you want to be remembered for being gracious, generous, and supportive. Right?
Always believe you can win. If you don’t, you probably won’t. Sure, there might be other writers out there with more experience, a better publicist, a niche market, but the truth is you must believe you’ve got what it takes to accomplish your goals. Because you do. Maybe your talent is raw but if you have the desire to improve your writing, then you will. And always know, deep in your heart, that you deserve to have your wildest dreams come true. Humility is a wonderful attribute, but temper it with confidence and the knowledge that the universe wants you to succeed. (Sorry, is that a little too Oprah for you?)
And finally, enjoy the snacks and have fun. The post-game treat is of paramount importance to The Fire-breathing Unicorns, as I’m sure it is with most kid’s sports teams. And so it should be for us writers! Many of us attend conferences to network, schmooze, and learn. But don’t forget to enjoy the celebration aspect, too. Have a yummy, gooey dessert with old friends. Or relax and chat in the bar with new friends. Soak up the atmosphere, surrounded by others who enjoy what you enjoy – writing. And even if you’re not at a conference, once in a while, put life’s pressures on hold for a few minutes and just BE. Be happy. Think about all you HAVE, rather than all you long for. And if you don’t want your dessert, give it to me.