December 1, 2011

The Question Is...Are You Tough Enough?

This post has been percolating in my brain for a few weeks so I apologize if it's a bit disjointed and overly long.

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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.

15 comments:

  1. Great post!
    I TOTALLY relate to the always wanting to be a writer, but initially pursuing something "practical" as a career instead. Recently I've added feeling old and like I'm getting a late start in this game to my list of doubts.

    This writer life is difficult and crazy-making, but I think that makes it all the more worth-it. The struggles now, will make success all the more rewarding later. I want writing to be my job and jobs are supposed to be, well, hard work. So to me, the more difficult it is, the closer I feel to reaching my goal. How's that for rationalization, huh?

    Good luck battling your doubts!

    Remember you are AWESOME!

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  2. I love your comment, Alyson! Especially how you find that the more difficult things get, you feel closer to reaching your goals.

    Huh! That's a fantastic perspective and one I might need to steal from you. :)

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  3. I love this post, Caroline. You always manage to talk about the struggles, doubts, and highs/lows of leading a creative life so eloquently!

    That professor of yours was a smart man! "It isn't about being the best. It's about being the toughest." What a great piece of advice!

    I also loved the second point you made at the end about how dreams shift. I think this is so true and something people often overlook. Because a dream shifts doesn't mean you are abandoning your "first" one, just that it has morphed into a more fitting representation of what you long for. And that is fine. Great, even.

    Good luck with all your revising. I know how tough it can be!! (((hugs)))

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  4. I blogged about this recently too - about how we keep going when we have no encouragement. I didn't have any answers, but I think sharing helps. I also agree your professor was very wise - and being tough is important.

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  5. As Bono once said "Don't let the bastards grind you down."

    Good luck and all the best in your writing!

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  6. No matter how tough your skin is, remember that your friends who support you are your armor. When the world is throwing too much negativity at you, put on some chain mail (have lunch with a friend!) and let yourself hear their belief in you. That helps more than anything!

    And I completely agree: dreams can shift. Mine have! Even two years ago they were totally different, but as I grew and learned more about myself and the world, my dreams evolved too. I didn't "give up", but I did completely change course.

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  7. Thank you, Caroline. I needed this today.

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  8. Wow--can you please be my therapist?? This is EXACTLY what I needed to read today. :)

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  9. I loved this! You, caroline, are a fantastic writer.

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  10. Ah-May-Zing. I haven't been doing much blog hopping lately, but Pam directed me to this post and it's just what I needed. Thanks for this :D

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  11. I am glad you are determined, because if you "gave this whole writing thing up" I would kneecap you. WE ARE IN THIS TOGETHER, young lady. Revision-buddies TILL THE END.

    P.S. I was away all week and now I am back. I missed your twitter-face.

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  12. LOVE this post. You definitely need thick skin to be a writer. I'm editing my very first book and I have no idea whether when I'm done, it will end up in a drawer forever, or help me land an agent &/or book deal. Who knows what will happen? What I do know is that I'm committed to making this book the best it can be, and if it doesn't work out, I'll keep writing.

    Good luck with your WIP!

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  13. Thank you for this post, Caroline. It's exactly what I need to read today -- not just for writing, but for life in general. Good luck with your writing. You WILL get there.

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  14. Happy Birthday Caroline! Have fun in the Keys. I'v never been there. Sounds fun. So jealous. Enjoy your books and warmer weather.

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