Today, a student stops by my office and asks in a somber tone, “Do I have a chance at this?”
Do I have a chance at this?
He’s talking about his dream of becoming a writer. He’s not the only one stopping by, asking how to begin and where to begin the journey of becoming a career author. I speak honestly at first about having another source of income until your first book contract, and even then, it might take three years until you receive royalty payments. I talk about how it’s difficult to earn a living unless you have huge advances, consistent royalties, and multiple book contracts.
But who knows? Go for it! Anything can happen!! Let’s do this!
He pauses to ask about the language: “What’s an advance? Can you explain royalties again?”
I stop him right there. I remember the best, purest advice about all of that–the business of it–being a “happy accident” alongside your love of writing. You write because you’re a writer. You write because it brings you so much joy and you must do it. You organize your whole life around writing, and you can’t think of any other way to live.
And when you finish that first novel, I explain, you query an agent. You go for it! You might receive dozens of rejections, and you’ll keep sending the query letter. You go for it again! And then you write more books, and in the meantime, you keep sending out manuscripts. You might find yourself self-publishing, freelance writing, and joining writing groups for the pure love of writing. You might find yourself trying your hand at memoir or historical fiction or essay writing. You might realize you’re already a success when you read your stories aloud for your own community.
I can’t promise anything. But you must go for it! But think about what the “it” is. What’s the big goal? Too many people begin writing for the big book contract and the success because maybe they aren’t really writers. They dream of writing and fantasize about the writing life (maybe the cabin in Maine, the steaming mug of coffee, and the cozy library in which you write bestseller after bestseller) but they love the dream more than the writing. Writers write. Writers keep writing.
You have something to say, and one day, you’ll find just the right home for your books. So I say to write! Go for it! But just know that “it” is the writing itself, not the money or attention from writing.