Dream big, expect nothing, work harder, repeat
|Me and my show horse Alter Ego circa 1996|
I think when it comes down to it, I like having something to aspire to. Here is the text of my email in response to the question:
I couldn't divorce writing from publication either. In the 20 years I rode horses, I don't think I would have kept doing it if I didn't also compete in horse shows. I would work hard for months for one event- looking forward to that sixty seconds when I'd go into the arena and my performance MATTERED. A great performance wasn't always rewarded, and sometimes I'd totally whiff, but I kept coming back in the hope that there would be a moment when it all came together. I had precious few of those moments in contrast to some others who seemed to win just by showing up, but it was always possible, and that's what kept me coming back.
One of my most memorable shows was an event where I came in third. It was a tricky course and I was riding a difficult horse, but I rode the hell out of it, hitting every jump perfectly. When I came out, my trainer (who was impossible to please) told me that he couldn't have ridden it any better himself. That was a huge win, believe me.
Writing is the same for me. I don't think I could spend as much of my free time as I do on something so hard, if there wasn't some prize, some possibility, at the end of the process. I still dream of the big book deal, the best seller, the wild success that only a handful of authors ever acheive. I want all of those things, and I think most writers do. And I always hope that the next book, or the next one, will be the breakout book. But what I've given up on is the idea that I can somehow MAKE any of those things happen. All I can do is up my game, focus on improving my craft, and write something I love.
So I do think that expectations should be managed. And while it can be depressing to realize that even once published, the odds are stacked against us, it's also liberating to know that others have done it, and that we improve our odds with every book. Opportunity comes to those who are ready for it. Overnight success happens to people who have been working on their craft for years before they sell a book or who have published lots and lots of quiet books before they have a success.
You can't win if you don't play, and I still want to win. But I no longer expect to. That doesn't make me sad, because in a sense, it takes the pressure off. I don't have anything to lose by trying again.
And, it is amazing to see your book in a bookstore, to meet a stranger who loved it, or to get an email from someone out of the blue. It's not about sales or marketing or prizes in the end. It's about knowing that you did your best and someone out there gets it.