Thursday, June 30, 2016

When Dreams Die



Ballet is a great love of mine, though not a great talent.  I didn't dance as a child (other than one semester-long stint when I was 6) or as a young adult (other than a requisite year of dance at college, as part of my music degree requirements).  For many reasons, all deeply personal, I fell in love many years later, all grown up and firmly entrenched in "stiff" and "not graceful".

After dancing once a week for a year or more, I came to the conclusion that, if I wanted to really progress, I would have to dance a heck of a lot more than that.  So I ramped up to three classes a week.  I set goals for myself.  I thought, okay, I have no desire (or ability) to dance professionally; this is just for me.  But I want to be the best I can possibly be, so I'm going to work hard.

And I did.  I still do.

But.

It'll be almost four years since I've begun my adult ballet adventure, and, well, it just isn't happening for me.

Four years, and I still can't do a decent single pirouette.  Four years, and I still don't look like a dancer.  Four years, and I still have an incredibly hard time learning new steps and putting combinations together.

Four years, and I'm nowhere near being able to start pointe classes.

Sometimes it frustrates me to tears.  And sometimes I rise above it, pull on my leotard, and dive in without thinking too hard about how bad I am at this.

My burning desire to truly succeed, though, has faded.  I've come to the gradual and heart-squeezing realization that dancing is not something I will ever do really well.  I actually hate this.  Hate admitting it.  Hate owning it.

Don't get me wrong--I'm not being self-deprecating here, and I'm not allowing momentary frustrations to defeat me.  I'm walking in the reality that I AM NOT MEANT TO BE A DANCER.

It might seem silly to you.  I mean, after all--who aspires to something like ballet when she's all grown up and WAY past the tender age when real dancers are born?  But it was never about wanting to be a "real dancer" (I don't).  It was about wanting to succeed as an adult dancer.  To be able to walk into an empty studio, turn on something from The Nutcracker, and dance my heart out.  Even if nobody saw me (especially then).  Even if I had to choose simpler steps, slower tempi.  Even if I were the only one who saw any value in what I was doing.

Even then.

But it's not happening.  And I don't see it happening.  Ever.  I'm getting older, not younger.  And I'll continue to go to my ballet classes, because...well, I love them.  So much.  But my ballet dream, which once burned so bright, has died.

In other words, reality hit.

And, yanno, for all these years that I've been blogging my heart to the writing world (I love you so), I've always said "Never give up!" and "Keep your eye on your dreams!" and "Keep writing! And writing and writing and writing!"

I'm not reneging on any of that.  You've got to keep going and you've got to keep writing, because it's in you, and you love it, and words crowd themselves into your brain every day until you have no choice but to spill them out.

But I finally have to admit that sometimes...sometimes...someone's out there writing their little heart out, and it's just never going to happen.  The passion is there, and the commitment, and the endless story ideas.  But regardless of how long he's been at it, there doesn't seem to be any forward movement.  He writes, but he doesn't excel.

And that doesn't mean STOP WRITING any more than my lack of ballet gifting means STOP DANCING.  It does mean, though, reexamining your goals.  It might be--it just might be--that your writing is like my ballet.  You are completely committed and absolutely in love with the idea of being a writer...but publication is not, after all, the path you should pursue.

This is a highly personal decision, and I would never presume to tell any writer what his goals should be.  If you write, then you are a writer, and you always will be.  You're never too young or too old to write.  I would never council anyone to quit writing.  But if you've been trying for fifteen years to get published, and you haven't been able to land an agent--or even to garner a full request or two--then it may be time to reset your expectations.

To write because you love it, and not because you are seeking to write professionally.  To lose yourself in the joy of your own creations without worrying, anymore, what the industry has to say about it.

Write for the sheer pleasure of writing, regardless of what is flowing out of your proverbial pen.

And then there's me.  I've got an (amazing) agent.  I've honed my craft and have received such glow-y comments from editors that I'm left scratching my head as to why they still say "no" to the book.

Unlike ballet, writing is something I do well.  I'm still growing (writers who stop growing should probably stop writing, yes?), and still honing.  But I am finally at a place where I'm confident in my ability to write a marketable book.

Yet here I sit.  Still waiting.

And if I'm perfectly, brutally, bare-my-soul honest, I've got to say that my dream has died.  I keep writing because it's what I do.  I've come this far, and I'm not going to just throw it all away.  My agent is excited!  Engaged!  And incredibly encouraging!  (She's incredible in so many ways--I should really showcase her here so you can all see how wonderful she is.)

I don't think I've ever experienced the level of enthusiasm and gut-level BELIEF IN ME that I get from Danielle.  And it definitely counts for a lot.  Every single day.

But my dreams?  They're yesterday.  I actually go days at a time without giving a second thought to the fact that we're on submission.  (This is a stark contrast to the way I used to HANG on the hope that today, today, today, today I'll hear something good!)  I just...write.  I work hard, I take it seriously.  I'm UTTERLY IN LOVE with my new WIP, and I'm pressing forward.

Dreamlessly.

In so many ways, this is easier.  Kind of like Data with his emotion chip turned off.  But in some ways, it's sad.  Writing without dreams feels like dancing without music.

Still.  We do what we can, and we do what we must.  I can't afford to dream anymore.  I just need to keep writing.  Because, unlike ballet, it's what I'm meant to do.

I really do believe that.

So wherever you are in your own journey, KEEP WRITING.  It's not the writing that needs to go!  But it may be something else.  A goal, an expectation.  A dream.  You can write without those things and still derive joy from what you're doing.

Always take the time to reevaluate, remembering to give yourself grace in the process.  Writing is hard.  The arts as a whole are hard!  But we who create have no choice but to keep doing so, regardless of where those creations ultimately lead us.

Take heart.  Keep writing.  And thank you for always, always, always offering me your support.  When my debut hits the shelves, you'd better believe that this wonderful MSFV community will be included on the acknowledgements page.

Oh, wait.  That sounded like a dream...

31 comments:

  1. *Hugs* Have you given any thought to trying other types of dance? I always wanted to do ballet, but had no skill for it. Jazz was better, but swing dancing was where I really found my niche. (Not Hip Hop, though - I look like Kermit the Frog in a blender)
    And I have to believe that if you keep trying, one day you'll get published (have to believe it for your sake and mine). One day we'll get the right ms in front of the right editor, and things will just click. After all, as J.A. Konrath says: “There’s a word for a writer who never gives up… published.”

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    1. Kermit in a blender -- bwah!!! :)))

      I like modern dance as well, and was taking a modern class this past year in addition to ballet. I really loved it, but they cancelled the class due to not enough participation. :((( Other than modern and ballet, I'm not really drawn to other dance forms. (Well, I love Regency dances. But that's kinda hard to find...)

      And that's an awesome quote; I've not heard that one before. So thanks for that!

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  2. I agree with a lot of this... it can sometimes be the case that clinging to a dream is more painful than letting it go. The latter is never exactly fun, but it can be freeing.

    That said, I think the timeline is going to be different for everyone. I've been pursuing publication since I was 13, and in retrospect, a lot of the stress came from not just wanting to be published, but wanting it to happen by a certain date.

    Now, I'm rapidly approaching that 15-year mark you mentioned. I've sold two short stories, but after a couple of shelved attempts, I'm nowhere close to having a novel ready to send out.

    It's fair to say that publication is lower on my priority list than it used to be. I've found a lot of satisfaction in other accomplishments, and from watching close friends who are further along this particular road, I know that publishing a novel won't solve my problems. Or rather, if I weren't already secure in my own worth, selling a novel wouldn't make that happen.

    I'm still writing. I hope that when I start submitting my work again, having had some time away will make the process less fraught. Honestly, Authoress, the way you've been able to set those submission thoughts aside sounds AMAZING. I'm prone to fantasies and speculation, and I wish I wasn't. I would so much rather derive joy from what is than from what might be.

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    1. For someone like you, Sarah, who has already sold 2 short stories, I would say that, yes, it IS just a matter of time. You've proven that you're sellable! I have also sold a short story, so I fall into the same category.

      Also, you are young (under 30), so time is definitely on your side. I have readers here in their 60s and up. It changes your perspective somehow. (Though, truly, if you've already sold and you know you write well, it doesn't matter how old you are!)

      I don't think I would have been able to set aside my daily fantasies on purpose. It just sort of happened, and I'm enjoying the lower stress level it's given me! I, too, am prone to fantasies and speculation. It's so easy to drive ourselves crazy that way!

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  3. I love you. Thank you for sharing with such honesty. *hugs*

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  4. I wrote two whole long comments twice and they both got deleted, one because I realized it was too much, and the other because the internet apparently decided it was too much. = P

    Suffice it to say, I'm in your corner, and I feel you. I really do: something in my OTHER professional life right now SUCKS because I know I'm not good at it. Your post was comforting, actually, because in writing out my previous comments I realized a fundamental difference between dancing, and my thing (which for some reason I found comforting because I am horrible, so please bear with me). You can choose not to dance, so you're dealing with the stress of deciding whether or not you're wasting your time. On some level that's great because you have freedom, and power to stop! On the other hand, I'm sorry for that struggle you have, because I know self-doubt is the worst. I hope you're enjoying dancing still; otherwise I do think it's not worth it for you, but all in all I know how much it sucks to be wondering if even enjoyment merits the time invested.

    I don't have that problem. If I chose to renege on my contracts and quit this thing I'm sucking at, I could actually go to jail, so I have to just keep going. And that's nice, I guess, because I don't have to make a decision. It's the twisted comfort of being owned by someone else.

    Dark whining aside, I think your post is important for a lot of writers (and achievers) out there discouraging themselves into craziness with unrealistic expectations. I hate the word "unrealistic expectations" because I believe with God anything is possible! But sometimes God says no, which is super-lame and mean of him and bleeech, but since he's God with over a billion years of experience in these things he probably knows a tiny bit better than I do.

    In the meantime, we make our own fun, and our own enjoyment, with or without success. Because who needs success? It's all temporary and fake. One day all our successes will go away and be TOTALLY forgotten. But joy, and fun, now that's permanent! Joy in the moment, and enjoyment of what you're doing while you mess up and laugh at yourself, joy that lingers in your memories and tickles all your waking moments, that's worth looking for. Peter Pan stuff. If you don't grow up, you don't lose it, that kind of joy and fun. Real Philippians 4:12 style joy doesn't care about circumstances or success, and it's worth dancing for whether or not you nail that pirouette. = P

    Hope all goes well. You can do it!

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    1. Oh, you are SO right. So very, very right. Joy transcends ALL circumstances, and is based on NOTHING measurable. Amen and amen!

      And thank you. Not sure I can do the pirouette, but I can write a pretty dang good story! ;)

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  5. I think what gets us down is not so much our dreams, but our expectations. We set goals and make plans and we get frustrated when things don't happen the way we imagined. "I will get an agent this year." "I will be published before I'm 25." It's hard to let go and let our lives and our careers unfold as they will. But if we keep working, keep dreaming, our dreams will happen when they happen. Not when we expect them to, but when we're ready. Authoress, I gotta think the Universe will be opening its hands to you soon. And it will be spectacular.

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  6. KCallard said just what I was thinking- maybe ballet is not your genre! I personally love jazz and tap, and swing dance was awesome! Well, expect that we were taking swing classes in a public rec center that turned out to be moldy and my husband and I got sick, and a friend most likely miscarried because of the mold, and I'm still in treatment for the mold, so my life is on hold, but that doesn't rule out taking swing again when I'm able, and maybe salsa, only this time we'll know not to trust leaky public buildings no matter how safe the county claims they are!

    So I guess I'm the poster child for "Your dreams may not follow your timeline, but the universe has a different timeline, so just be patient and keep on reaching for the stars."

    I'd like a kitten on my poster, please.

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  7. Dear Authoress,
    This must have been excruciating to write. Thank you for your courage in writing and then posting it. Maybe your comparison is a bit off. I always thought it lovely that you take ballet classes as I loved dancing when I was young and imagined myself in any number of productions. But I have weak ankles and realized I didn't have what it takes to be a "ballerina." Ballet seems a bit like golf for my husband or painting for me: he will never play in the Masters, I will never be exhibited at MOMA. He golfs because there are still sand traps he has yet to blast out of and there are still blank canvases at my home.
    Writing is something else. I can't not write. I expect you feel the same. Journal, computer, the paper in our heads - it offers opportunity for my words and it the disappear, I will make homemade paper and invent a computer.
    All part of my dream. BTW, I'm part of your (way) over 60 admirers and I writ adult fiction, so a bit of an anomaly perhaps. Isn't that what painting and golfing and dancing are all about?

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  8. Although I appreciate your courage in writing this piece, I have to admit that I'm very troubled right now. I've followed your blog long enough to know that you're only focused on traditional publishing - as are most of your followers, I have no doubt - but still, the fact is that, just because a writer has slaved away for years, trying to get an agent or editor's attention, does not mean that he/she isn't cut out for publishing. Before giving up on that career goal, he/she could at least try to self-publish - where the only gatekeepers are the readers themselves. Even finding a small audience along the indie route is better than no audience at all - or, worse, giving up on lifelong dreams. Stepping down from my soapbox now... Happy Fourth of July!

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    1. I get what you're saying, Laura. I do! But my dream has never been to self-publish my fiction. (I've already self-published non-fiction, so I've been there, done that, too.) So when I talk about dreams dying, that's what I'm talking about. For me, personally.

      And really, I wasn't trying to make a point about traditional publishing being the only route. I was really trying to point out that sometimes, for some people, writing really ISN'T for them. And self-publishing whatever they've written isn't going to make them into the writers they hoped they were (or get them an audience, either). The bottom line is that sometimes we work really hard at a thing, no matter what the thing is, but in the end, we have to be honest and say that the Thing isn't something we'll ever do well. And that it's okay to admit that.

      Self-publishing stuff-that-isn't-really-good-at-all doesn't do too many people too many favors, yes? :) (Though my hat's off to anyway who chooses that path, because it is so. much. work!)

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    2. Think of it this way. A gal dreams of being a pediatrician. She is passionate about it. She makes it into med school, but she fails most of her classes. She doesn't earn her doctorate. She will never be a pediatrician.

      She can channel her passion for caring for children in a different direction. But she can't just hang up a shingle and say, "Screw them! I'll do it on my own."

      Now, obviously, writing is different from practicing medicine! But the truth remains that some pursuits in life have checks and balances in place, and some don't.

      Okay, that was a really strange analogy. Probably I should stop now. :)))

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    3. Sorry for the delayed response. As I wrote on my Facebook page, I just want to clarify that I didn't take your heartfelt post as an affront to indie publishing. Not at all. In fact, as several other blog followers have written, I found your piece very honest and courageous - if not a little sad. Sad, because I think that, by spending the last few years trying to be traditionally published, you've denied eager readers your words - and dimmed your own passion for writing. As you said, though, yours is a very personal journey - and there's nothing wrong with pursuing a traditional publishing deal. That's your choice. My only concern was that, at the end of the post, you suggested that other writers - after toiling away and getting no attention from agents and editors - might need to face a hard truth: that, while writing might be their passion, getting published may never happen for them. As a longtime follower of your blog, I'm aware that you've self-published before - and I never meant to suggest that you should have pushed self-publishing in your post. I only wish that, given how influential you've become in the publishing world, you had included one sentence to those who might consider heeding your words and give up their dream BEFORE trying indie publishing. After all, they might find their audience - even a small one - without being approved by the traditional powers-that-be. These days, the only gatekeepers SHOULD be the readers! But that's just my two cents. I just felt that, after all this time, you've earned a lot of respect among your readers - which means you have a responsibility to them - and I would hate to see someone quit without trying all avenues. Still, it was a moving post - and I certainly wish you the best in your writing career! (And yes, you're absolutely right that people must be honest with themselves - it might be hard, but necessary for a person's happiness, to recognize that his/her goal or dream is no longer a viable one. Maybe such a realization will finally allow him/her to embrace a new, better, more fitting goal! But you'll certainly never know for sure without giving it your all!)

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    4. Thank you for your thoughtful reply, Laura. :)

      The bottom line is that I wasn't (and am not) talking about people not being able to be published. I'm talking about people not being able to WRITE. That's the hard truth. We can skirt around the issue, but the fact is that, for some people, the writing just never comes together (in the way that my dancing isn't coming together; hence the comparison). Encouraging these folks to "go ahead and self publish" would be like encouraging me to start my own dance company.

      Of course you're passionate about self publishing, and I love when people are passionate about the things that are important to them!

      Regardless of an individual writer's dreams -- traditional publishing, indie, hybrid -- the bottom line is that, for some, the WRITING isn't happening, and that's when they have to look hard at their dreams (whatever they are).

      That's what I was addressing. And it's a hard thing to address, because I would never tell anyone to stop writing because they sucked at it. (That would be like, yanno, my dance teaching telling me to go home because I sucked at it.)

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  9. A dream, sure, but also a step on the path to reality!!

    Your honesty and courage are so refreshing and inspiring. Ballet will always be a part of you and I hope you find new ways to love it.

    I've been working on improving my skills for years now (no submitting in at least 5 years I think). Part of it is my crazy chaotic life, part of it is the knowledge I can be better, and part of it is fear. One of these days (hopefully not too far down the road!) I'll take those steps again. And I know your journey will give me courage.

    As always, thanks for being you!

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  10. Timelines are just so different for everybody, whether it's getting an agent, getting published, or some other goal we've set for ourselves.

    In fact, that's one of the things I love about your blog--it reminds me how varied the path to publication can be. Everyone's road is so different, but hearing these experiences helps keep personal expectations in check. Is it okay if I don't land an agent with the first book I query? Yep. Is it okay if it takes three, or four, or five, or however many manuscripts to get there? Yep. This great community really helps drive that home.

    Reading about your ballet goals though, makes me wonder what your dancing community and ballet teacher are like. When I danced, mine were both wonderful but harsh--dreams were not allowed; they were crushed on the spot. A lot like rejection letters, really. But it kept us honest, and in check. You danced for the love of it--just like so many write for the love of it. And even after dancing for 15+ years, no one felt like they were amazing. Well, maybe a few, but certainly not many. :) In reality, we were all just putting one foot in front of the next, class after class, practicing every day, just like a writer might write every day.

    For what it's worth, it took me ten years to finally get my pointe shoes. And from my experience, changing teachers can be really helpful, even if just for a few classes. No matter how nice/supportive/talented they may be, another teacher might have a different technique or trick to help you land that pirouette, or pick up choreography a little easier. Or know a barre exercise to help strengthen your feet and get you on those pointe shoes faster. Kind of like a critique partner--every teacher brings something different to the table, and at times it might be more or less helpful than another's.

    Good luck!

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    1. Hi, Elizabeth!

      My dance community has been amazing. I take classes at 2 different places; at the first place, I've had the same teacher for 3 years (but that class has now been dropped). At the 2nd place (the "big deal" ballet school of our area) I have had a number of different teachers, as they rotate the adult-teaching schedule. Most of these teachers have been amazing, and so very supportive of their "older ballerinas". It's so true that each teacher brings something different to the table! And this has definitely enriched my experience.

      What I long for, though, is the kind of training offered in the actual academy for younger dancers -- a curriculum that we could build on month after month, year after year. This is impossible, though, because of the nature of the adult classes -- always new students arriving, always different levels in the same classroom. It results in never truly having the opportunity to master something before adding to it. ("Master" is relative, of course, since in ballet you are always progressing/improving.)

      Anyway! There is truly MUCH joy in my ballet classes. I just wish I could actually...dance. :)

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  11. Thank you for speaking so frankly and openly about feelings that so many of us have, but keep to ourselves. And good for you for finding a way to write and dance for yourself, and not for any other reason.

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  12. You MUST try ballroom dancing. It uses a lot of the same technique as ballet, but requires a lot less intense training to be good. It also gives the same feeling as ballet i.e. Strict set of rules, repetition of movement, solid building of skills, and the ability to express oneself. Having participated in both forms ballroom is the way to go!

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    1. I have tried many times over the years to get my husband to do ballroom dancing with me. He won't! :)

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  13. Hi MS,

    First, I want to thank for all that you do for us. Second, I rarely comment though I mean to but this post made me feel compelled to respond. It really resonated with me and I wanted to offer up some encouragement that you may not have thought about.

    Once upon a time I was fortunate enough to fulfill a lifelong dream of playing basketball professionally in Italy. It was wonderful to achieve the level of ability needed to do that. But what a lot of people find surprising is that once you reach your goal there is a large let down of sorts that the journey is over. Doing something that you love is great but once you're forced to do it over and over it loses its luster and soon becomes a chore.

    I didn't play very long nor did I achieve any level of greatness (i.e. the NBA) but I was shocked to find that I lost the love of the game that I had while chasing my dream.

    My point is, if you love to dance then relish that emotion and the time you have doing it. Getting better at something is great but sometimes we need to bask in the glory of our passion while we do it. Not for accolades or achievement but for the pure joy that that passion affords us. You love to dance. Whether you do it with mediocre talent or on a professional level isn't the point. The exhilaration we feel, and the freedom our souls experience is.

    I would love to be a published author. But I love writing more. Whether I am talented enough to ever see my words in print is immaterial. The fun I have delving into new worlds of my creation and meeting the people that inhabit them far outweigh publication.

    I urge you to not only continue dancing but doing so with the free spirited inhibitions of a child.

    All the Best,
    Charlie

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    1. Charlie, this is absolutely beautiful. Thank you so very much for taking the time to share this. I assure you that your words have gone deep!

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    2. Authoress,

      I'm really happy that my reply had an impact. I truly hope you continue to enjoy your passion as you always have and are meant to do. Please keep us up to date on your dancing as well as your writing. Should you ever need a pep talk about them feel free to let me know. Thank you for everything.

      All the Best,
      Charlie

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  14. I'm coming late to this, but I thought I would add a comment. Have you ever considered, Authoress, that's it's not you or your writing, but the publishing industry/market. I'm one of your 60 year old followers. When I first started submitting, you wrote your story, stuffed it in an envelope, and sent it to a publisher. No query, not even a cover letter. Virtually everyone was open to submissions, and they always replied. I was selling short stories and even a picture book. And then the business changed. The home computer/word processor was invented and suddenly, everyone was writing. Publishers couldn't keep up with submissions and the rules were set in place. No mss., just queries and synopses. As the capabilities of computers advanced, houses closed to everyone but agented writers, took 6 months to a year to reply, and finally stopped replying all.

    There are millions of people out there trying to sell their mss. And even if you only count agented writers, the competition is immense. We are needles in a haystack looking to be found by someone who only wants platinum needles two inches long with an eye a millimeter wide. What are the odds of being found?

    But . . . you can't be found if you're not out there. I still write. The nonfiction market is much more accessible, and I've made my sales in that market. But the novel is what I've always strived for, and like a lot of writers, I can't 'not' write. So I write to sell (nonfiction) which I consider work, and I write my novels, which I consider pleasure. And knowing the realities of the publishing world, and the odds, I still submit my novels and try to hunt up interested agents, and tell myself, one day. Not because it's my dream, but because it's my reality.

    Keep at it, and you will be found.



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    1. You know, you're right. Your comment has really made me think hard about this. Even when I first started querying, things were mostly paper. I remember that agent Kristin Nelson had a list on her blog of agents who accepted queries via email -- the first of their kind! But I have a big pile of rejection letters in the top drawer of my bedside table. It feels like dinosaur bones now.

      Thank you for sharing this perspective. You've got a wonderful attitude, so you're always going to come out on top! I appreciate the encouragement.

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  15. Exactly what I needed today. I've wondered what is wrong with me that my dream isn't as vivid as it used to be. That while I still love writing it isn't the all consuming thing it used to be. It is what I do, what I'm meant to do, and I'm good, even if I still have a lot to learn. I will eventually be published. This post was perfect helping me be okay with how things change. Thank you.

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    1. Thank you for sharing! I'm so glad to know that my words ministered to you right when you needed them to. :)

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  16. Authoress...

    I've been around your blog on and off for many years now. And you have been such a source of love and inspiration to MANY of us. I agree whole heartedly that some dreams must die, BUT some dreams DO COME TRUE. And I honestly believe that. It may not be your TOP dream, but it can be a more humble dream... a dream that makes your soul truly 'DANCE'....

    I wish that for you .... I wish that for all of us.

    HUGS...

    Michael

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