Part of the third step is letting go of how I want things to look, how I want things to be. I have all these fantasies about what my writing life should look like, how much monetary success I should have, about how many supermodels should be fawning over me.
For example, I want to write four hours a day, no matter what, and if I don’t, I’m a loser. And I want a huge publishing house knocking on my door, no wait, three huge publishing houses, bidding over my latest project, trying to woo me to their side. And then the cash, the fame, an apartment in Paris, a villa in Italy, an igloo in Alaska. I want adoration, dammit.
I used to say after my first rejection that it was when the dream died. But that’s not the truth at all. So here’s the story. I went to my first writer’s workshop, Andrea Brown’s Big Sur Writers Workshop put on with the Henry Miller Library in Big Sur, California. So I’m nervous. I’m hopeful. So hopeful in fact that I brought a printer and several reams of paper just knowing that a big time agent would ask for my complete manuscript, and I’d have to print them out a copy immediately.
I had submitted the first twenty pages of my novel and I had a literary agent going over it with me, and I thought it was genius. The agent didn’t agree. And slowly, she ripped through my pages, but of course, she was right. I was new. I didn’t know any better. I figured I could write a novel and get it published and then, bring on the supermodels, lots of ‘em. After she was done, I had been reduced to ashes. That’s when the fantasy died. Not the dream. The dream I get to live every time I write. But the fantasies of a Stephenie-Meyer-esque success right out of the gate. This was going to take work and struggle.
So part of the third step is surrendering to my writers’ fate. Accepting reality. But don’t get me wrong. It doesn’t mean I stop fighting, or struggling, or hoping. Every query letter is a success. Hell, every word I get out on the page is a success. It might not look like how I think it should, but that’s part of practicing the third step. Letting go of our old ideas and being open-minded.
I’ll end with this story. I was talking to my wife and one more time, I was going to give up and run away and never write again. She turns to me and says, “Aaron, you’ve lived more of your life in a fantasy world. You writing and trying to get published is one of the only real things you do. It’s gritty, it’s not perfect, but it’s real. Don’t give up.”
I ran away. I wept. I trembled before the terrible truth. But I didn’t give up. Eighteen months later I got my first book contract.
The fantasy is dead, mostly, but the dream, the very real dream of writing lives on. Maybe that’s why writers have a hard time with the publishing industry. It’s numbers. It’s sales. It’s real.
Ah, but the fantasy was so sweet while it lived. But fantasies won’t get me where I want to go. It takes work and sweat.
I love the Prefontaine quote, “To love winning is easy; to love the battle requires toughness.”
Bring on the battle.