Nicole Chardenet graduated from Kent State University back when Duran Duran was still considered cool. Her writing credits include a technology column with a colleague for a New England alternative newspaper, various freelance pieces, and several SCAdian “filk songs”, the less said about which the better. She currently lives in her Den O' Iniquity with Belladonna the Demon Beast in Toronto, where she now terrifies Canadians rather than Vikings.
Do Or Do Not Write.
There Is No Try!
The world is full of wannabe writers. Everyone thinks they 'have a book in them.' Some will attempt to write it. A few will actually finish it. And even fewer still will sprint that last very long mile toward getting it published, although with the declining stigma of self-publishing that number is growing. Still, that involves putting your work out there for either standing ovations or incendiary snark about how there oughta be a law against you ever going near a word processor again. [See: Jacqueline Howett]
What's the secret? What does it take to be a successful writer?
I had your typical midlife crisis when I turned forty. And I dealt with it the way most people would: I moved to Canada! Okay, well, I also asked myself what am I doing with my life, and what was wrong with it? (Apart from the crying lack of poutine and good beer.)
I read an excellent book by Dr. Kenneth Christian called Your Own Worst Enemy: Breaking the Habit of Adult Underachievement. It was for all the people who felt like they should have accomplished more in life than they have. It was amazing. Awesome. The author had nailed me cold.
I didn't know what I wanted to do with my life, besides move to Canada. The book had fifteen exercises to do to figure out what you really wanted to do, and then to do it. I figured it out pretty quickly. I wanted to be a novelist. I had an idea for a book that had been kicking around in my head for years, and it was time to write it. Of course, knowing what you want to be when you want to grow up, and actually doing it, are two different things. I'd joked all my life about 'when I'm a famous writer'. This book destroyed all my excuses and self-limiting behavior.
Probably the most common argument for not doing something is, 'I don't have time.' I had to make the time, and, like most people, I had it, I was just crap at managing it. There could be no more procrastination, on anything. This meant not putting off unpleasant tasks, and especially nothing with a deadline. Because life, as John Lennon once said, is what happens when you're making other plans, and often it happens at the most inconvenient times. In those days, Facebook was just an underlaid Bostonian's wank dream, but I spent a lot of time on Usenet discussions. That had to go. I planned my evenings for when I got home. I knew what I wanted to accomplish, whether it was household chores or a chunk of writing. And then I did it. Usually. When I didn't it was usually because life happened.
I learned not to fear failure, and to take risks. Because if I didn't do any of these scary tasks ahead of me – writing a book, querying agents, finding a publisher – I absolutely would not ever be a famous writer. And if I did these things, I still might not be a famous writer, but I wouldn't know if I didn't try. The last thing I wanted was to be sitting in the old folks' home some day thinking, “I wonder how different my life would have been if I'd uploaded an e-book to Amazon?”
I learned not to let a little thing like not knowing what the hell I was doing stop me. I researched writing and publishing. I read agent blogs like Miss Snark and Evil Editor. I read books on how to improve my writing. I joined writer's groups. I made a lot of stupid mistakes, but I didn't let that stop me. I knew now that mistakes were learning experiences. I learned that all that boring crap my parents and teachers were always telling me about the importance of persistence and not being afraid to fail was, well, not so much crap after all.
I learned that it was okay to do something I wasn't necessarily the best at. I learned to take calculated risks. I stopped stalling (“I'm too busy moving to Canada right now”), and stopped being a total Marty McFly and telling myself, You're just not good enough. I stopped waiting for the magic opportunity to drop in my lap. In short, I decided that I wanted to be a writer, dammit, and I had to make it happen. I wrote the damn book. I learned how to edit and polish it. I learned how to craft a query letter, how to pick out the right agents, and how not to piss them off – very important! I learned how to take rejection. And I got a lot of it. A few agents asked to see partials or fulls but they all passed.
Then something happened to really hose up all my well-laid plans. Wall Street melted down, Big Publishing's profits dropped, and they circled the wagons. Getting a break as an unknown author became even more difficult, and word on the street was that they were only interested in The Next Big Blockbusting Bestselling Harry Potter-Like Thing. Had this all been just a complete waste of time?
I decided to wait out the hysterics, and in the meantime, to try a little experiment. I was going to publish my own novel and see if I could use my 20+ years of sales experience to make it a success.
Not the novel I'd written when I decided to become a 'reel riter.' I picked a different one, because I wanted to make all my mistakes with the one that mattered to me a little less. Not to my baby.
And I released Young Republican, Yuppie Princess in March. I can't claim to be a famous writer, or a truly successful writer yet. But I'm on the road, and so far I feel confident about what I'm doing. It took an awful lot of mental headspace-changing to get there. Because I was like most people before, afraid to take risks, afraid of failing. I thought of all the people who quit early because they couldn't handle the rejection. I wondered how many great new writers had been passed up by a publishing industry too blinded by The Vampire Da Vinci Code With Sea Monsters to know another success when they see it. And after the Meltdown, I began reading that they were now looking for self-published successes for potential new book contracts. [See: Amanda Hocking]
I stopped procrastinating. I made the decision to do, not try. Now I read the tales of other peoples' successes to see what else I can do to be a success, and to see what I'm doing right.
I haven't given up on getting a book contract, but it's no longer my Holy Grail. Even Hocking resisted initially taking one because she was making more money doing it all herself.
I feel very, very good about my life now. I made it happen. I'm a reel riter.
My Website: Nicole Chardenet, Humorous Fantasy Writer
My blog: Tongue of Dog's Breakfast