I am finding that the more that I get into this crazy career of novel writing and the more that I meet others who are doing it, the more that I notice that there are two traits that all of us share. And believe it or not, neither one of them is creativity--although obviously this helps. These traits actually have nothing to do with the artsy side of us whatsoever. They are much more mundane, but oh so important. They are patience and courage.
If you are new to writing or pondering the possibility of beginning to write, you are already asking yourself if you have these. The questions sound like this: Can I really take time away from my family to write? What if it takes a long time, can I handle writing for years and not getting published? What if I invest a lot of time into this and I fail? Or some of you have been writing for a while and are asking yourself: Can I really keep going in the face of all this rejection? Can I keep querying and querying and not hear anything for months over and over again? Is it delusional thinking to hope for publication even after years of trying unsuccessfully to get there?
I believe that you will figure out whether or not you are a writer based on how you answer these questions. If you can forge ahead despite your misgivings and the absolutely terrifyng realization that there are no guarrantees, you have the courage you need. If you can accept long periods where you have no idea what will happen next with one manuscript and begin writing another one, you have the patience. Does this mean that on any given day you won't wallow in self-doubt or fear? No. It means that you will dig deep and find a way to go on in spite of it. You will keep putting one foot in front of the other--working that job you hate while you desperately hope to quit and one day write full time. You will continue juggling family and your writing even if you are the world's clummsiest juggler. You will get knocked down and keep getting up. Because deep inside of you you have both of these traits. They may be underdeveloped now, but they're there, waiting to show up when you're put to the test, waiting for a chance to shine.
So how do you know if you have them?
If you are here, reading this, you have them. If you are even contemplating this journey as one you'd like to take, you have them. They are small, tiny things--puny really when you first discover them, but for every obstacle you plow your way through they grow, strengthen. And it is a good thing that they do because the starting line for this journey is actually the easiest, least scariest place to be. The stakes get bigger the further into this process that you are. Once you are writing for a while, you'll be terrified that your big break won't come. Once your big break comes, you'll be terrrified that you can't do it again. Once you do it again, you'll be terrified that you can't do it a third time. Then you'll worry about winning awards or selling movie rights or gaining respect as a writer or keeping up with your very talented peers. There is no finish line for fear in this business, no moment where you will say that you have made it and can now lie back and enjoy it all. There is merely a change in those fears and new challenges.
The same is true for the waiting process. You wait at every turn. You wait to complete your novel, you wait to get an agent to read it and get back to you, you wait to get signed, you wait to go out on submission, you wait to hear what publishers thing of your work, you wait to hear back about your revisions, you wait to get paid, and you wait to get your book out on an actual shelf. There is never an end. Ever.
And the only way to survive what's coming is to learn to be comfortable with where you are RIGHT NOW. EVERY STEP you take forward is a VICTORY, a show of your patience and courage-however tiny. But do you know what the really good news is? You have these traits and so the biggest thing separating you from published authors is your ability to keep using them every time they're tested.