I’m a risk taker, one of those crazy people that tries stuff that seems to terrify others. I think risk takers don’t actually experience the same level of fear as most (normal) people—plus the added adrenaline rush urges us on. I’m the girl who decided at age 10 that I wanted to go into space, and being strapped to the equivalent of a 10 megaton bomb didn’t really concern me. Because it was space—how could you not want that? Sure, it was an incredible amount of work, the chances of actually becoming an astronaut were horribly long, and you could blow up, but the risk of dying was reasonably low, and the rewards were literally out of this world.
See? Easy decision. Which was why I was shocked and a little appalled that becoming a writer terrified me.
Fear has dogged me every step of the way in this process, from the first time I sat down at the keyboard, to the first time I let someone else read my writing, to the first time I published a novel. But today I’m going to talk about the most difficult leap of faith I’ve taken in my writing journey: the decision to become a serious writer.
I had been writing like a crack-addicted monkey with a keyboard for about nine months, when I had to decide if I would pursue writing as a serious career, rather than going back to engineering (which had always been Plan A after the kids were in school). My youngest was going into Kindergarten, and I was envisioning the day when all three of my boys would be in school full time. Would I really spend those daytime hours pounding out middle grade and young adult fiction, rather than getting a real job, one that had a hope of paying me actual dollars?
This was back when traditional publishing was the only real route to success (a mere two years ago), and the only option I would consider if I was going get all serious about being a writer. I don’t tend to do things by half-measures (see the idea of going into space, above), and I knew if I took this leap, there was a real possibility of being one of those writers who never caught the golden ring of publishing: a contract with a NY publisher. The odds seemed about the same as becoming an astronaut, only without the consolation prize of being an engineer who would make meaningful contributions to society, even if I didn’t make the cut. If I went for being a published author—and didn’t make it—I could wind up being one of those unpublished aspiring writers who starts drinking scotch at 10 a.m.
I remember having an intense discussion with my husband about it. “What if I write like crazy, query a hundred agents, and I still don’t have a published novel in 5 years? It could happen. It probably will happen.” I envisioned that as five years of my life, wasted. And I didn’t like to waste things, certainly not years of my life. I have a limited supply of those. At the same time, the idea of giving up my writing was keeping me up at night.
He said, “Well, you could guarantee that you won’t have a published novel within five years by not trying.”
Damn. I hate it when he does that.
So, I took the leap. I decided to let go of the easy money and recognition of returning to the field I’d worked in for years—gotten a Ph.D. in for heaven’s sake—and jumped into a long-odds attempt at being a serious fiction writer for children. This was before I knew about the coming seismic shifts that would grip the industry and turn it upside down. Before I knew that a few months later, a small publisher would seek me out to publish my first YA novel (Life, Liberty, and Pursuit)—a love story I had never intended to publish, having written it for fun and for my niece. Before I knew that the rise of e-books would open up self-publishing as an alternate path for writers. Before I knew my self-published second YA novel (Open Minds) would have more success than I had any right to expect.
I’m not sure that knowing those things would have made the leap any easier, because the chance of failure still burns bright as a possibility, even with all the choices available to writers now (and I truly believe there’s never been a better time to be a writer). I took the leap because I wanted no regrets. I didn’t want to be an eighty-year-old grandmother, reading to my grandchildren, thinking, Maybe I could have written this.
Here’s the thing about taking the leap: it is action. And action is the best weapon against fear, making it evaporate like the mist of illusion that it usually is.
Because I leaped, I discovered that it doesn’t matter to me how my work is published, only that I have people reading it. Every day, someone tells me they enjoyed my novel, or writes a review of my work, or buys a copy—showing with their dollars and time that they’re intrigued to hear the stories I have to tell. I don’t know what the future holds, but in five years, I fully expect to have more novels published and more people reading them.
And I’ve never been happier that I took the leap.To learn more about Susan and her wonderful writing, visit http://www.susankayequinn.com