“You are responsible for your own career.”
I’ve got that quote posted on my monitor, where I can see it every day. It’s been there a long time. I’ve internalized the message over the years, and I thought I’d learned what it meant, but the lesson has come home again to me recently, and changed me in a way I had never anticipated.
I used to think it meant that there is no one way of becoming a successful writer, and that the choices and mistakes I make (in what and how much I write) are mine alone. And I’m good with that. Obviously, in order to have a writing career, you must write. There’s a corollary I subscribe to that says basically, that when your writing gets good enough, you will be successful.
But it’s a long road.
And while there may be no one road to success, there sure are a lot of gatekeepers out there. Some days, the rejections roll in so fast, it feels more like running a gantlet–and you’ve got to be an expert at rejectomancy to figure out why they didn’t like your story. The determined writer develops thick skin and keeps writing and improving and submitting.
And then after a while, the first little successes start coming in and you realize you’ve leveled up. And it’s wonderful! But it’s a dangerous time, because you’re thinking you’ve got this writing thing licked, and you’re on your way. People are buying your your stories. You break 100 followers on Twitter. You see your name mentioned in a review. You’re a ‘Neopro’ now, and you want it–more, faster.
But it’s a long road.
The one-and-two-sentence personal rejections cut to the bone in a way that the form rejections never could. You bleed for days, and tear that story apart six different ways before promising yourself you’ll never send it out again. In the radio interview, the host pronounces your name wrong four different ways–none of which are remotely close. The ‘big’ media review never gets published, or they get the name of your story wrong. For whatever reason, the best thing you ever wrote didn’t even make a blip on the radar.
But there are some people out there–real pros who have been out on the road longer than you have (and they’re wonderful people–they’re probably writers) who offer to help you. They can get you past some of the gatekeepers. They know the business. They know the secret handshake. And you’re thinking, ‘Wow, with this guy/gal helping me, I’m set! I’m on my way! This is it!‘
But it’s a really long road.
And in spite of all the good intentions of your patrons/mentors/friends/network, it never seems to work out quite like you thought. There’s a miscommunication and the meeting is missed, or the chemistry isn’t right, or they just signed a big name to a three-book vampire Marine superhero series and your story about whatever is too similar. Or they say ‘yes’, but for reasons no one can foresee or control, the contract never materializes. And your patrons/mentors/friends/network can’t help you because that’s how the business works. And they’ve got the battle scars to prove it. And your skin peels off and you think you’ll never recover from this one.
And the thing of it is, it all comes back to this: “You are responsible for your own career.”
You’ve got to keep writing. Keep improving. Introductions are great, but don’t expect other people to do the work for you. Accept and offer friendship wherever you can, and keep a positive attitude. Take your lumps and learn your lessons. And never, ever quit.
The scars will heal. The road goes on.