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I will never forget how I felt the first time I gave my work to a critique partner to review. You know that fluttery feeling you get in the pit of your stomach, like a child waiting to get just a bit of praise? I was full of flutters that day, and it wasn’t anything I’d eaten, either. I was a new writer, holding my breath, wanting to know if my words had touched someone.
We had exchanged work the week before and were meeting to discuss it. I was so green, so naïve, but I knew I was the next Linda Howard. Did I mention I’m an eternal optimist?
You see, I was working on a Commodore computer (Am I showing my age?), no spell check, no grammar check. Oh yeah, and I’m dyslexic. That sort of makes writing a challenge. And while I hadn’t been up to a challenge at sixteen when I quit school, I was twenty-three when I went to that critique session. I’d learn a thing or two, heck, I’d given birth without pain medicine, so I damn well knew I was invincible. (I’ve learned a lot since then.)
Needless to say, you can probably imagine what shape my manuscript was in. But remember, I’m an optimist. So when my critique partner looked me in the eyes and said, “Wow, you amaze me,” I went from scared to feeling like a junior high girl who’d just gotten asked out by the captain of the high school football team.
Then my critique partner continued, “To even think you want to be a writer with everything you have to learn.”
I won’t lie; it hurt like having my fingers jammed in a car door, twice. Even reminded me of childbirth. But I knew she was right. Nevertheless, I had the optimist thing going for me. And as crazy as it seems, the dyslexia had helped me grow a thick skin.
So me and my thick skin kept writing, kept learning, kept giving my work to others to be read. I got raked over the coals numerous times. My rejections poured in, too, from publishers. “We’re sorry but . . .” “Unfortunately your work . . .” “You don’t meet . . .“
Yeah, I got a lot of those.
Poor me, right?
Sure, it wasn’t easy. But every successful writer I’ve known has a story to tell, a list of hurdles they’ve jumped over, scooted out of the way of, knocked down, and basically kicked butt to make their dreams come true.
Hurdles and rejection in this business are the norm. If it was easy, I don’t think half of us would aspire to do it. (It says something about writers, doesn’t it?)
However, because I know we all need a shot of motivation, here are a few of my hurdle-jumping tips.
1. Don’t deny your weaknesses; until you admit you have them, you can’t overcome them. Acknowledge your strengths, and build on them.
2. Use your personal rejections as stepping-stones. Go ahead, call the agents and editors idiots . . . for about five minutes, then try to see if their criticisms have merit. But never forget a rejection doesn’t mean a work isn’t great, or even publishable.
3. Find a support system and avoid negative people. I have numerous friends/critique partners and one writing partner on my nonfiction projects. Together, we believe we can conquer the world. Seriously, we’re gonna do it, too.
4. Nurture your passion for writing. Don’t make the payoff all about publication. Set small goals then celebrate each minute accomplishment. You have to enjoy the journey, because the destination—publication—can be long way away.
5. Don’t get caught up in rewrite-itis. Write a book, polish it, but then start another one. Each book is a learning experience and to be a successful writer, you’ve got to do more than write a great book, you’ve got to be able to write great books.
One last piece of advice: Use visualization. Its power is amazing. I saw myself signing a contract, autographing books, and when I got bad news (during the five minutes of idiot calling), I saw myself bury numerous Weight Watcher leaders, contest judges, editors, and even a few agents in my backyard compost pile. I even rent out compost plots to fellow writers. Cheap. Call me.
In all seriousness, this business isn’t for wimps. But if you love writing, if you want it, you just don’t give up. And let me assure you, if I can do it, so can you.
Click here to see a video of Christie on the Houston Chronicle.com about her overcoming the difficulties of being dyslexic.