Monday, October 26, 2015

The Doubt

When you begin the process of querying agents, you start with a list. That list is generally long, varied and full of mistakes. You then cross people off the list, send out start query letters, get rejections, rewrite your query letter and continue on your way.

But then, what happens when you start to get...noticed? When not one, but two and then three different agents over the course of a year have requested more material. You wait anxiously for news. You wait. You wait.

You wait.

And then rejection.

I have received somewhere in the neighborhood of fifty rejection letters throughout my querying. I can chalk some up to weak query letters I suppose but the rest of them always make me question not only myself, but my voice as a writer. I find  myself asking, what am I doing wrong? Is my voice too this or too that? Should I be funnier? Should I be more serious? Should I change the focus audience? Do I even know the focus audience? Do I even know what I'm doing here at all?

The demons of doubt occupy the head of every person, but I sometimes think the creative community gets the worst of it. It's always there, at the corner of the eyes and the back of the mind: Doubt.

Picking away at what confidence you got from that rather nice and helpful rejection last week. Undermining what you are certain you know. It's hard to push past that. It's hard to pick yourself back up again and say, "I'm going to keep trying. I'm going to do this." You see a lot of people saying it's hard to make a living as a writer, or that you won't get rich doing this. I have no ambitions to "get rich" as a writer.

I want to write full time, of course, because telling stories is the thing that drives me. It's my passion. Whether through art or words, I've always found myself telling stories. I love it. It is driven by my insatiable curiosity and wonder at the world around me and it is dampened by doubt and uncertainty. Some days I go to my day job and wonder if it is all I will ever have.

But I can't give up, because I love this too much. Once, in college, I was told I couldn't do Study Abroad in spite of being accepted at the study-abroad program, because my GPA was .005 under what it was "supposed to be". I had been toying with transferring schools and this study abroad was going to be my way of taking a break from the culture of my college and coming back fresh. I was devastated. I had already gotten my VISA, I was ready to go. But without the school's rubberstamp, I would have no financial aid.

So I told them I was going anyway. I would find a way without them. I held my head up and told my adviser that not only was I going abroad, but if they refused to finance me I would be seeking a new institution for my final year of college. I would transfer to our "rival" school if that's what it took. I was done.

I got a meeting with the provost. It turned out, she was the wife of one of the professors who recommended me in glowing terms to the program. I'd no idea at the time of course. I walked into that meeting prepared to be told no, but hoping, just hoping, that I would get a yes. We talked for a bit about why I wanted to go. About what I would do if I didn't go.

My dad had driven me there and was waiting in the car outside. I was in that meeting for about ten minutes. I walked out of it, walked down to the car and looked at my dad. "I'm going to Italy."

I got to go because A) I refused to take no for answer. I didn't give in to doubt. I knew I deserved to go and B) I got a little lucky. The professor thought I was amazing and I have a feeling he talked me up to his wife.

I went to Italy and I found something there I didn't know I would find. My voice. My writer's voice. It was that elusive thing I didn't know I was really missing until it clicked. I found it because I fought to do something. I'm going to keep fighting for my voice. I'm going to keep trying to put my voice out in the world. I'm going to defeat doubt.

It doesn't matter how many no's you stack up. It doesn't matter how many rejections you pin to your wall, because it only takes one yes from the right person to set you on your way. 

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