Once upon a time in a faraway land, I discovered what I wanted to be when I grew up.
I wanted to be Indiana Jones.
I didn’t want to be like him. I wanted to actually be him. I wanted to search for ancient clues and rescue precious artifacts. I wanted to save the world.
Then one day I started receiving college literature in the mail. They were all flashy brochures with the same pretty picture of a flowering tree and grassy quad with ambitious looking young people that said PROMISE without words. But not one of those brochures offered a degree in being Indiana Jones.
I was devastated. I had built my entire world around being Indiana Jones someday. I never really understood how submersed I was in my own little world until my brother recently said to me, “You were always playing dress up.” Yeah, I was. I was practicing being Indiana Jones.
So when the time came for me to actually choose something to do with my life, I picked the only thing that I knew how to do.
I said I was going to be a writer.
And my dad, practical man that he is, asked, “But what are you going to do to make money?”
My dad was probably the nicest of all of them. Usually, people just laughed at me when I said I was going to be a writer. And when I said I was going to write romance novels, they just rolled their eyes.
It wasn’t until my senior year that I got this message from a teacher of mine written in response to a presentation I had given in school:
Jessica, the writer’s road is a long one. Until that first work is published, it’s windy, rocky and uphill. I fully believe you have all the necessary ingredients needed to succeed in writing or any other field of your choice. Live your dreams, kid, you work hard enough to deserve them.
I framed this note, and today it sits in a place of honor on my writing desk. It’s a reminder that someone long ago believed in me enough to push me to the next step. That of majoring in English in college with a honors in creative writing. And was there something there that drove me to the next step? Of course. It was the response to a piece of mine in a critique class. A fellow writer that I respected very much wrote:
This isn’t just your best work in my eyes. It’s amazing. F*cking brilliant all on its own, doing whatever.
That, too, got a frame of its own and spurred me on to the next big thing. Writing my first complete romance novel during Civil Procedure class in law school. I shouldn’t endorse or even condone writing a book during a class for which you paid a whole lot of money to attend, but by the third week of law school, I had already checked out. So I didn’t care, and I kept writing.
But what does this all have to do with my journey as a writer?
I recently attended the first NHRWA meeting of the year, and our president wrote a very interesting article in the newsletter about characters. All characters have goals, and all goals come from motivation. All along the way I have had motivation in the form of feedback. First from Mr. C and then from a fellow writer. But this feedback only had to do with the actual writing. There was a whole other part to this business that no one ever told me I would have to do.
When Dad asked me what I was going to do for money, he didn’t really know quite what he was asking. For the writing is the easy part. Selling the story is the hard part.
This other side of the writing world involves business plans, marketing plans, queries, pitches, partials and fulls. At last week’s NHRWA meeting, I felt like we were speaking our own version of Klingon.
‘I have three partials and a full out right now, but I was at two fulls and two partials, so I’m not sure which is better.”
“I pitched to Anne at Bookends at Nationals, and I just sent the proposal last night so I guess I’m in the waiting room.”
“Does anyone here know what SEO I should put into my blog, and at what point do I need to work the social media thing for my manuscripts?”
When I said I was going to be a writer, nobody told me to go to business school. But luckily, I figured that out on my own fairly quickly and did in fact go to business school. But the fight is still brutal even with the training that I’ve had. Getting published requires stamina and endurance. At times, you just want to say, “This sucks,” and forget the whole thing. You love to write. You don’t love to persuade editors and agents into loving your material, because your material rocks and they should love it without your persuasion. But that’s not really how it works. If you write, you had better be prepared to sell your story.
Which leads me to the other piece of motivation that I got a very long time ago.
I hated my first year of college. I was coming down off my Indiana Jones expectations and wallowing in the laughter and ridicule of my proclamation to be a writer. I was not a very happy camper, and I did the only thing that I thought of to do. I sent an email to Julia Quinn. For those of you who don’t know Julia, I’ve put a link to her website on my links page. Julia has since removed her email address from her website, because she just doesn’t have time to respond, but ten years ago, she responded to me.
Me: Julia, how do I get published? Do I need an agent?
Julia: No, join RWA. That’s all you’ll need to do.
So now, while I fight the publishing fight I remember Julia’s email. I did join RWA, and RWA has resources beyond the writer’s imagination. I went on to join the local chapter of RWA for even more resources, and I keep Julia’s email in mind. I took the motivation for my writing and went for it, completing my fifth manuscript in July. I took Julia’s motivation and joined RWA to find so many avenues to publication.
So where is my character development now?
I was talking to a couple of co-workers the other day, and they asked me about how I met my fiance. I told them the truth. I had been working full time and going to school full time. I didn’t have time for a boyfriend, so I never dated. But I was finishing up my degree, and I thought I’d really like a boyfriend. So I went online to a dating website and found one. I’ll be marrying him in three weeks. My co-workers looked at me a while before saying, “When you really want something, you just go out and get it, don’t you?”
I have goals, motivation and a character to develop. The natural conclusion is to just go for it. Even if nobody told me that I had to do this, too.