There are no magic numbers, formulas, or words to feel “good enough.” This is one of the great discoveries I’ve made on my writing journey. Great reviews, blog spotlights, and your mother’s highest praise are not enough to push the little whispers of uncertainty from your brain.
Once you start on a road that involves writing, editing, and publishing one book after another, things can become a little blurry. You stop thinking about how badly you just wanted to share your words with anyone and you start to worry about deadlines, sequels, and reviews you’re not supposed to read.
After reading a book I absolutely loved and devoured (Write Naked by Jennifer Probst), I told myself I would internalize the kind of writing life she spoke of. The kind where I would strip away the outside pressure, the comparisons I made constantly and focus on who I am as a writer. I would stay true to the stories I wanted to tell.
Sure, I could do that. While I told myself I was doing that, I checked my email minute by minute, waiting for news on this submission or that submission. I wrote with an almost frantic need over the Christmas holidays and not because I was so engaged in my characters or the plot. I cared about what I was writing, but that wasn’t what drove me.
Thinking about it after my “epiphany” moment, I acknowledged that the true catalyst keeping me at my keyboard was to prove myself worthy.
No matter what stage I’ve reached in this journey, I’ve always reached higher. Ambition is great. Except when we forget or don’t make time, to acknowledge the triumphs and victories. On my last book release, we did absolutely nothing to celebrate. My family and people online said happy book birthday. But I didn’t do anything that required taking a few minutes to tell myself, ‘Hey, good job’ or think about what an accomplishment it was to have released my thirteenth book to readers.
What caused my newfound clarity and the ability to really live the words I cherished in Jennifer Probst’s book? Funnily enough, it was a rejection. I’d been trying for a bit to get into a specific publishing house.
It wasn’t just that I wanted to be published with this house; it was that when they said no the first time, I didn’t stop and say, okay, why? Nope. I decided I’d change their mind, whipped up a story and submitted it. They said no again. It became less about the story I had to tell and more about my need for them to see me, recognize me as a talented author.
Here’s the thing: I should have already come to this conclusion on my own. Instead of thinking about what I could change in my submissions, while reminding myself I’ve already achieved success, I thought about what else I could send to show them I’m worth taking a chance on.
My agent said “breathe.” I have this symbol tattooed on my arm, but I needed the verbal reminder. For some reason, it all clicked and even though one day, I’d love to publish with this house, I want to do it because I have a story that is perfect for them. Not one that I designed to grab their attention. I don’t write authentically when I’m trying to please. And that’s part of what Write Naked taught me, that I hadn’t yet absorbed.
This is why the greats tell you to sit down and write what’s inside of you. It’s the best chance any of us have of really being successful (and when it happens, to whatever degree, acknowledge it). No one else has my stories to share. I needed to start seeing that my voice mattered. Instead of wiggling down the dark rabbit hole of despair that can come with rejection, I took a breath and thought about all of the things I’d accomplished. What I’ve done so far has to matter.
Five years ago, I couldn’t imagine having one book out in the world. Sometime between then and now, I forgot to be amazed with my persistence. When I took my agent’s advice and stepped back, for now, I felt relief. I was pressing so hard to prove something, to do more and be more, I hadn’t even considered how thin I might be spreading myself.
I want a career as an author. Yes, I’d love to hit bestseller lists and see my books get made into movies, but if I can’t manage to appreciate my smaller milestones, I’m going to talk myself out of enjoying the big ones if and when they come.
Embracing what I’ve achieved and throwing myself into current projects has reminded me of how happy writing makes me. I get to share my words with readers and every book I’ve put out has been shared a little further. Being happy with that, truly owning the contentment that comes with those achievements, has settled something inside of me. It’s also stopped me from obsessively checking my email, which is a small, added bonus.
What part of writing makes you happy?
JODY HOLFORD is both a contemporary romance and cozy mystery author. She lives in British Columbia with her family. She’s a huge fan of Rainbow Rowell, Nora Roberts, Carly Phillips, Lori Foster, Sarah Fox, & Agatha Frost. She’s unintentionally funny and rarely on time for anything. She has an equal amount of love for writing and reading the sigh-worthy moments in a book.