Reading, Writing, And Unrealized Dreams
The year was 1978. My mother was a lover of blue eye shadow and Danielle Steel novels. We lived in walking distance to the library and she took me every week, allowing me as many books as I wanted to lug home in my Ziggy tote bag.
An avid reader at a young age, I read everything I could get my hands on and began writing book reviews, I was six. That’s nearly forty years ago.
I’ve been at this writing thing for a long time.
By age fourteen I had plowed through the entire Danielle Steel oeuvre and started thinking, “I could write books like this!” I know, such a humble attitude at such a young age. I created stories in my head, imagining rich women leaving their husbands and living in magnificent wealth. I was an avid watcher of LifeStyles of the Rich and Famous and really took Champagne Wishes and Caviar Dreams to heart.
Growing up, I had two loves: art and reading/writing. I pursued art and got a scholarship to an art school but did not go. I didn’t have thousands of dollars for tuition and didn’t understand how to apply for financial aid. Instead, I went to community college and followed my own plan, skipping the required math classes, and taking as many art and English classes as I could, then I called it a day.
Later I’d take weekend classes at FIT in New York City but I got a little derailed by a full-time job. I never stopped reading, writing, or drawing.
In the back of my mind, I knew I’d write a book someday. I had visions of my name on the bestseller lists. A movie made from my stories. Lots of money in the bank. My dreams were very big and very clear.
Many years ago, I was driving in the car and heard a radio show where the discussion centered on a scientist determining the unhappiest age, the age where people were most likely to commit suicide.
That magical age was 43.
At 43, this expert reasoned, you’ve reached an age where you are confronted with the fact your life is probably half over and the dreams you had as a kid are probably not going to come true.
How uplifting, right? What hope!
I kept that age tucked away, believing that by the ripe age 43, I would have finally made it as a writer. And by “making it” I mean, a contract with a top agent and a deal (s) with a major publishing house.
I had visions in my head of maybe not J.K. Rowling level success, but enough where I could buy whatever I wanted and pay cash for a car with leather seats and a sunroof.
When I turned 30 I wrote my first book, a huge, rambling thing of 100K words. I didn’t know about character arcs or pacing but I managed to write this missive on pure instinct and creativity.
I figured I’d send it to agents; they’d love it, a deal would be made. DONE. My husband would be thrilled with the influx of money, my parents would be proud. My kids would have their college education paid for by the work of my imagination. Maybe I’d even set up a trust fund.
The rejection letters came in like a massive flood. I felt like a loser.
I wanted to give up.
But I didn’t.
I wrote another book.
Continuing the pattern of sending to agents, the rejection letters once again, arrived fast and furious. I started keeping track of the rejections but after a few hundred, I stopped.
Yes, HUNDREDS. I could show you my notes but I don’t want to further humiliate myself.
For a while, I knew about every agent at every literary agency because I had, at one time or another, received a “thanks but no thanks” letter from them.
I became friends with authors who read my work and encouraged me to keep going. One of my books was published by a small publisher but that didn’t bring me the success of my dreams. A kid’s book I wrote was published by another tiny publisher and I met with Disney and Nickelodeon to pitch a show based on that book.
“So I didn’t make it big with my books, maybe I’ll end up working a TV show,” I thought, but again, nothing happened.
I kept writing.
I studied screenwriting to help my work. Syd Field and John Truby and the Save The Cat books were underlined and earmarked. I did a stint at a production company reading and analyzing scripts so I could figure out what worked and what didn’t work when telling a story.
I read every book on writing I could get my hands on. I took notes. Notebooks full of notes.
Everyone reminded me how many times popular books had been rejected at first. The Help. Harry Potter. The Firm. Chicken Soup for the Soul. Books by Judy Blum, Stephen King, and Rudyard Kipling were rejected. They all went on to enjoy great success.
Maybe I was writing in the wrong genre. I tried writing a Young Adult novel. I wrote a suspense novel. Another Young Adult novel. A thriller. I rewrote the suspense novel. I cried. I rewrote the suspense novel again.
I cried some more.
Now I am past that peak depression age of 43 and I have many, many books on my computer and I’m still sitting here wondering at what point do you give up your dreams and find something else?
Or do you accept that maybe your childhood dreams are simply not going to come true?
Do you move on and get a job as a cashier at Target just to pass the time and earn a paycheck? Or start something brand new like teaching yoga or becoming a baker?
I read this awesome book a long time ago by Randy Pausch. Called “The Last Lecture: Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams” it’s full of amazing advice. I should read it again.
Randy died shortly after this lecture but his words live on and its this quote that keeps me moving forward:
I want that success badly. I guess I’ll just keep going. I encourage you to do the same.