Lessons Along the Way


When I began writing my first novel ten years ago I had this grand idea that I would write this great story, get published within a year of completion, become a bestselling author, do interviews on news shows, book signings, quit my job teaching, begin writing full time, and life would be great! This is the way every dream begins – HUGE.

Upon completing my first novel I took a couple weeks and enjoyed the fact that I had actually finished a novel. Off and on for six years I had worked on that story, and I finally could say that I had gotten to the end. All that was left was an agent, publisher, bestseller, interviews, books signings, quit teaching, start my next story, and life would be great.

I had no idea how to get an agent, but I was determined to figure it out. So, I read different authors’ websites, agents’ blogs, and bought the Writer’s Market books. I tried to educate myself. I learned about the different genres, word count, format, and query letters. I learned which agents accepted e-mail queries, and which accepted snail mail. Then I assigned my novel to a specific genre and began learning how to write a query letter. I learned that writing a query letter was more difficult for me than writing the actual novel. I’m still trying to figure out how to write the damn thing. I made a list of all the agents that represented the genre of my novel. After making my list, I began one by one sending out query letters to each agent. Then, I waited.

After three weeks I started receiving responses from the different agents. Most of them were form letters, some took the time to personally respond and give some advice, even a few asked to see the first few chapters, but they were all rejections. It doesn’t matter if rejection comes in the form of a letter, email, phone call or in person; rejection sucks! You’ve given your all to your dream and then to have someone else, who in my case, had not even actually read my manuscript, reject your work can be devastating.

I went back to the books and blogs to see if I missed something. Then I saw something that I had forgotten about because I was so excited I finished a novel: edit! I wasn’t sure how to edit my own work. I was a reader and all i knew is what I liked to read. So, I picked up my manuscript and began rereading. I realized quickly a finished product is not always a great product. I noticed things that needed changing or deleting, but I realized that self-editing was difficult for me. I started looking online for different editors and quickly realized I couldn’t afford any of them. At this point I was so sick of it all that I didn’t care anymore. I laid my novel aside and accepted the fact that writing it was as far as I would get.

Thankfully, I had not quit teaching. So I settled back into my non-writing life. Life began to happen at a faster pace. Relationships, friendships, jobs, social life, etc. they were all good. No complaints. But that dream was still there. The desire to tell stories had not left me.

I thought of going to workshops or taking classes, but the reality was I couldn’t afford to pay for the workshops and/or classes. After a year or so another writer introduced me to the book The First Five Pages: A Writer’s Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile by Noah Lukeman. Then I read Noah Lukeman’s other books: A Dash of Style: The Art and Mastery of Punctuation, and The Plot Thickens: 8 Ways to Bring Fiction to Life. I was reading these books because they dealt with what agents are looking for, and they dealt with editing. I was doing my best to educate myself. I did a little more editing on the novel, but I still wasn’t comfortable with my own ability. Once again I laid that first manuscript to the side.

With my dream still in my head, I realized that I just needed to keep writing. So, I did what I had done before: I sat down at my desk, turned my computer on, opened up a word processing program, placed my fingers on the keyboard, but unlike before, my fingers didn’t move. I stared at a blank white screen for about twenty minutes, and then shut my computer off. For six years I had been working on one story. When I began that one story I had a beginning and a destination in mind. As I stared at that blank white screen I realized I had no story. I had no beginning or a destination. All I had was a dream and desire.

I finished my first novel four years ago. I have yet to get an agent or published, still teaching, yet to do an interview or book signing, and life is…I can’t complain. In those four years since I completed that novel I haven’t been able to write very much. I have started a few ideas, but nothing has taken hold of me like it did before. I’ve saved the things I’ve started hoping that maybe in time I can come back to them. Slowly, I’m starting to see a little light at the end of the tunnel. It feels good just to write down ideas. I’ve read books like The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, and Bird by Bird by Anne Lammot for inspiration. When I do write I just put down what comes to me.

I’ve quickly learned that the life of an unpublished writer is difficult. You have a job or jobs, and responsibilities that take time away from your art. You find yourself tired at the end of the work day with no energy to even write a single word. Or, as hard as you try nothing happens; the cursor just keeps blinking. Then maybe you get a few hundred words down and your excited, but when you reread what you wrote, you realize it’s all shit. But, because you have a dream and desire you keep trying. You keep walking the path and learning from the journey.

So here are three lessons I’ve learned so far, and these are lessons that apply to anyone’s dream:
1. Don’t give up on your dream. – It is okay that your dream is big. It should be! Just because you haven’t reached the end of the journey to your destiny doesn’t mean that your dream isn’t going to come true; it just means your still on the path and the journey isn’t over yet. You have things to learn, and experiences to go through. Don’t give up! Persevere! Keep dreaming! Even if it means staring at a blank screen for now.

2. Patience. – There are those amazing crazy stories about the luckiest people on earth who show up at the right time in the right place and everything gels together, and they make it big without any real effort. Those people make me sick. They are spoiled little dream kids. (Sorry, my bitterness that I’m learning to deal with.) But those stories are amazing because they aren’t the norm. Maybe you will be that lucky (dammit, I hope not…Sorry), but for most of us, achieving our dreams often times requires patience. There is no time limit when it comes to pursuing our dreams.

3. Do all you can do to make it come true. – Apart from those spoiled little dream kids (see above) the majority of us have to work hard to achieve our dreams. Practice. Read numerous books on whatever our dreams involve. If we can afford it, we pay for workshops and classes. The reality is that achieving your dream more often than not means working hard. There are gonna be things you wish you could do but you can’t afford to do. This may mean you have to save your money till you can go to the workshop or take the lessons. In the meantime, do something else that is related to your dream. Just make sure you do all you can do to make your dream come true.

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7 Responses to Lessons Along the Way

  1. rilaly says:

    Wow, that was fantastic. I’ve been through almost the exact same thing as you. I finished my manifesto, and I quickly realized that I was the only one who attached such a magnificent word to it. I haven’t becomed depressed about the rejection in awhile, because it’s such a part of my world now that I accept it (with regret) as the normal course of things. As you say, I have kept writing non-stop. I love blogging, I write short stories, and I have numerous other novels in process that may never see the light of day. As you say though, the best way to defeat rejection is to keep working through it. I absolutely loved your optimistic message in your final points that suggest that you are responsible for keeping your dream alive.

    • Mike Drewery says:

      Thanks Rilaly for reading my post. We as writers all go through the same things. Blogging has helped me a lot as well. I don’t post as much as I would like because of the job, but I try to keep it up as much as possible. Keep writing and pursuing your dream! Thanks again for the wonderful and encouraging comment.

  2. kevingooden says:

    Hi Mike,

    Your “Lessons Along the Way” blog stirred a lot of different emotions within me.

    It’s amazing how writing – such a solitary endeavour – invokes so many common experiences for those who do it.

    I also have an unpublished novel. When I completed it, the excitement was unparalleled. And my first rejection – such a disappointment!

    These emotional explosions are shared amongst all writers. And so we become part of a grand community, though we practice our craft in our own little cubbyhole.

    Because we ARE members of a community, I wish to share some encouragement with you, and also a frank comment.

    First, I admire your passion and your dream big message. Dreams are SO important! I’m happy you’re sharing this message with others.

    Second, never doubt that completing a manuscript is a huge accomplishment! Many people DREAM of writing, but don’t have the persistence to make it even that far. And, despite the difficulty you’ve had restarting since finishing that first effort, doing it ONCE means you CAN do it again!

    Speaking of the challenge you’re experiencing starting up again, I’d like to share a personal experience with you. When I was quite young I wrote a number of short stories. These got passed around within a circle of friends; the reaction was very positive, and I received plenty of ‘you should be a writer’ comments. Right on! Now I was really excited, and I rapidly developed a focus on how great it would be to be a successful writer.

    But…I suddenly found myself unable to write. Does this sound familiar? I bet you and I aren’t the only ones who have fallen into this insidious trap.

    When it comes to writing, I have learned, it is not possible for me to write well if I am writing in order to achieve success. I have to write simply because I love to write. And I do.

    Your passion to learn and continue with writing is great. You’re reading books of very high quality, which is one of the most critical parts of learning to write (and you don’t even have to go to a workshop to do it). One instructional book I strongly suggest is Stephen King’s non-fiction work about writing, simply called: On Writing. This brilliant, no punches pulled writing book is a must have!

    My final comment: try to lose the bitterness. Write for your own enjoyment, and then see where it goes. If some people appear to have gotten a free ride, so what? I bet if you actually talked to them, the appearance would not match reality. Some great books DO take years to write. And some people have a natural, intuitive gift that makes them a shoe-in with agents and publishers. Every field of human interest has these sorts of people. The rest of us must plod along, taking our time, and therefore it’s critical that we ensure we enjoy the journey.

    Wishing you the very best,
    Kevin

    http://kevingooden.com/writing

    P.S. I recently read about an unpublished writer who had her novel rejected over EIGHTY times, and she then hired a freelance editor to help her. The novel was published on the very next try.

    • Mike Drewery says:

      Thank you Kevin for your comment. I appreciate you taking the time to read my post. From what I’ve learned it seems that all writers go through the same things, whether we are unpublished or published. I should’ve mentioned that I did read Stephen King’s On Writing. It is one of my favorite books on writing. Thank you so much for your comment. I really am not bitter, I was trying to be facetious. You are so write though, we write because we love to write. Yes, we want success, but in the end I began typing out words because it is my passion.

  3. realmccoy says:

    mike,

    as I have told you in private I have been encourgaed by your blog. How you might ask? simple words of life’s trials and joys from the pen of another wanderer. I am not a writer or really aspire to be one but I am a lover of creativity and art in all forms and yours is no exception. keep it up bro.
    don’t forget us lowly mortals after you get published and famous:)

  4. modestonfire says:

    Sounds like you and i are in the same boat, right down to the Noah Lukeman books. The whole process sucks. My theory–with out all the rejections, when victory comes, it may not be as sweet. Imagine how anticlimactic it would be to have the first agent you query, sign you…

    I’m full of shit, but it helps me sleep at night. Goodluck with your journey, and don’t give up.

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