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I've always wanted to be a writer--I've known it in my bones since I was a wee little thing writing stories on wide-ruled paper--but my sensibilities told me I should choose Something Practical. And so, in college, I decided to become a history professor because I loved history and I adored my classes and I was getting pretty darn good at cranking out research papers.
One day, I was talking to my favorite professor, Professor Murdock, about graduate school and especially about my anxieties concerning it. Were my grades up to par? Was I smart enough? Good enough? Ready enough?
Professor Murdock, who was very wise and very honest, sat back in his chair and said to me, "You know, when I was getting my Ph.D, I noticed something interesting. My incoming class had a good number of students but over half of them dropped out before they finished the program."
"Oh," I said, feeling a little queasy.
"And you know what?" Professor Murdock continued. "A lot of the people who dropped out were some of the brightest students in our class. So, at the end of the day, getting a Ph.D isn't about being the smartest. It isn't about being the best. It's about being the toughest."
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A couple of weeks ago, I was flipping through an issue of Entertainment Weekly and I read an article about actor Jeremy Renner. This portion of the article really stuck out to me:
Back in 2001, things couldn't get any worse for Jeremy Renner. The out-of-work actor had just turned 30 and was living with his French bulldog, Simon, in a tiny Hollywood apartment with no power.
"I ate on $5 a week," says Renner, now 40. "Top Ramen, McDonald's, and YumYum doughnuts, which had 14 doughnut holes for 99 cents." During the worst of it, Renner recalls looking at Simon and saying, "We're gonna look back on this one day, and it'll be awesome!"
Of course, things turned out pretty awesomely for Renner. In 2009, he won an Oscar for Best Actor in the film, The Hurt Locker; and he will soon star in the latest Mission: Impossible movie, Ghost Protocol.
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YA author Robin Mellom wrote six manuscripts before landing a book deal for Ditched.
YA author S.J. Kincaid wrote seven manuscripts before she found a publisher for Insignia.
YA author Beth Revis wrote for ten years before selling her book, Across the Universe.
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Admittedly, I have been besieged by the Doubt Monsters of late. Editing my WIP has been a struggle, a constant battering of doubt-filled questions. Is this book any good? Can it sell? Will my agent hate it? It's a strange thing to look at a manuscript that I once loved, that I used to get simply giddy over, and to have so many concerns about it now.
Sometimes I want to delete the whole mess and start a new project. And sometimes, admittedly, I've thought about giving up this whole writing thing entirely. It's hard. It's draining. It's damned heart-shattering at times.
But it's my dream, it's my passion, so what do you do?
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Just a few closing thoughts in bulleted form:
1.) Writing is hard. Acting is hard. Pursuing a creative life is very, very hard. The rejection. The heart-hurt. The constant doubting. There's no shame in giving it your all and then deciding that you want to pursue something else. There's nothing wrong with that; there's nothing wrong with changing your mind.
2.) It's okay, too, if you dream shifts. Maybe you started out this whole writing journey with the dream of landing a deal with a Big Six publisher and seeing your book at Barnes & Noble. But maybe now you've decided to go with an independent publisher or you decide to try an e-publisher or maybe you want to give self-publishing a shot. Dreams shift. And that's okay.
3.) Like Professor Murdock said, it's not about being the best or the brightest or the smartest. It's about being the toughest. So shield your heart. Grow an armor of thick skin. Bat those rejections away and keep on trying.
It's not about whether or not you're good enough. It's about how tough you are.
I hope I can be that tough.