The Personal Apocalypse—When are We REAL Writers?
It would be lovely if, when we decide to pursue our dream to become a writer, that friends, family and acquaintances would roll out the red carpet of support. Maybe some of you are fortunate enough to have had this happen, but I’d wager most of us could have joined a cult of UFO worshippers in New Mexico and received a better response.
New Level, New Devil (Thank You, Joyce Meyers)
Any time we seek to do something remarkable, something that deviates from “normal”… expect rejection. I was “fortunate” to experience a personal apocalypse so massive, that up was the only way to go. With a misdiagnosis of epilepsy, I’d lost my job, my home, my savings, my health, my identity, and my pride. I’d suffered such a sweeping personal extinction that I very literally had nothing left to lose.
Why not become a writer? I’d always wanted to, but was too busy trying to please those who would never be pleased.
Brief History of Kristen’s Failed People-Pleasing Attempts
I’d joined the military to make my father happy. He wasn’t. After being a high school drop-out TWICE, I worked my tail off and won a full medical scholarship to become a doctor and please my grandparents. My grandmother’s first words to me when I announced I’d won a $250,000 scholarship?
“They must have been short on their quota for women.”
I fractured my back in an ice storm in 1995. No more medical scholarship, so I majored in what interested me.
I earned a degree in International Relations, specifically Political Economy of the Middle East and North Africa. I was going to change the world! The day after graduation, I boarded a plane for Syria and lived with refugees and mingled among the Bedouin and tried to see how things could be “fixed.” They couldn’t. At least not by me.
Defeated, I returned home.
Lost as to what to do next, I went into sales to please my grandfather (the business brain of the family). I was terrible at it. And yet I kept trying to fit myself into worlds where my strengths and talents had no place. In trying to please others, my health deteriorated drastically from stress. I remember every day going to work and having to pull over and puke. I hated what I did THAT much.
After I lost everything due to that fateful misdiagnosis, I decided to become a writer. I’d been working on my tome for years. I was sure it would be a best-seller and shut up all my naysayers. It wasn’t. It was a train wreck. I realized this when I joined a critique group and they promptly filleted me and my manuscript.
Thus, in a new personal low, I reverted back to trying to please others and got another brilliant idea.
“I know. LAW SCHOOL.”
I bought an LSAT book but never studied. I guess I thought I’d learn through osmosis. Anyway, it would have been great if I’d tanked, but I didn’t. I scored a 168 without studying. Now I was truly in a panic. Until the day I received my scores, I hadn’t been honest with myself. I didn’t want to be a lawyer. I’d just thought maybe my family would let up on me for a while then I could write while I “studied” to do better.
But, no. I was accepted into one of the top law schools in the country.
I’d always believed in service. I was a Rotarian and had done mission work and humanitarian work for most of my life. So, my mother (my sole advocate) and I went to talk to the church elder to get some advice about law school versus being a writer.
For some reason I expected him to support my writing dream, but was basically told I was a fool and most writers wash out and starve and that writing wasn’t a “real” job.”
*Makes mental note of how many BOOKS were lining his office*
When I left, I was in tears and ready to give up on writing. Had it not been for my mother, I would have. I’d have gone off to law school then later hurled myself in traffic because I would have been chained to yet another profession that wasn’t my calling.
How Could ONE PERSON FAIL So MUCH?
Faith is the belief in things ahead that won’t make sense until we look back. This is one of the reasons I blog so much to teach you guys more than craft, more than social media. I want to teach you that it isn’t over until we give up and that failure provides the necessary ingredients for success.
If I hadn’t been a high school dropout, would I have had the tenacity to never give up?
If you read my new book, it’s loaded with neuroscience, economics, epidemiology and humor. If I hadn’t majored in Neuroscience for three years, then earned a degree in Political Economy, would I have been able to tether all these concepts together in a book that could help artists?
The same analytical skills that helped me on the LSAT helped me pull apart what worked and didn’t work with selling books. Why don’t ads sell books when they sell plenty of mascara, diet plans and computers?
If my first novel had been perfect, would I have had to take on jobs editing and reverse-engineered every book I’d ever read to learn? Could I teach craft had I naturally been “brilliant” at it? If I hadn’t landed on my @$$ so many times, would I have developed the sense of humor that makes all these concepts FUN?
Failure as Fertilizer
When we first moved into our new home, our yard was essentially mowed field. The dirt was nothing but rocks and hard clay. When I planted my first flowers, they shriveled and died. So I planted different flowers and they died too.
So then I planted different flowers and they
caught on fire and fell into the swamp died too. But, finally, after rounds and rounds of dead plants, the flowers started to thrive. All that had died had provided what was missing, the vital ingredients for life to THRIVE.
Your “failures” feel like bull$#!&, but bull$#!& makes fabulous fertilizer :D. You just need time, work and patience to bloom.
Embrace the Apocalypse
Becoming a writer isn’t easy. We get called “aspiring” writers until we land a sweet three-book deal with Random-Penguin. No one calls a pre-med student an “aspiring doctor.” They don’t call a pre-law student “an aspiring lawyer.” So, as I’ve said before, screw aspiring. Aspiring is for pansies. You are NOT an aspiring writer, you are at the very least a “pre-published writer”.
Writers write, so if you are writing, you are a WRITER.
Ignore the naysayers. They’ll be your biggest fans one day when you prove them wrong. Raise a glass to your failures. They will provide the ingredients for magic in your future writing. Let the old fall away. A lot of an apocalypse is releasing the old, the out-dated and the junk that doesn’t work.
I had to let go of trying to please others. I had to let go of failing at destinies that weren’t mine. I had to let go of amateur thinking and take my job seriously, even if no one could walk into a bookstore and buy my book (yet). Know that you have stories only you can tell, subjects only you can teach or explore (for the NF authors). You were born to do this and ignore anyone who tells you any different.
If your friends and family don’t support you, the WANAs will. Join us on #MyWANA on Twitter or on WANATRIBE. When we try to hold onto the old and fail to embrace the apocalypse and embark on our true journey, we look a lot like this.
What are your thoughts? Did you have a personal apocalypse that prompted you to throw caution to the wind and become what you always wanted to be? Are you like me and struggle with people pleasing?
I LOVE hearing from you!
To prove it and show my love, for the month of July, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).
NOTE: My prior two books are no longer for sale, but I am updating them and will re-release. My new book, Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World is NOW AVAILABLE.