In Michelle Hoover's case, it took 14 years to finish one novel and find an agent. Through that decade (and then some), she dug into her craft, faced the reality of creative sacrifice and found within the stamina only seasoned marathon runners access to create something truly noteworthy, her novel The Quickening.
MH: I am a very goal-oriented writer. Since I run my life on an academic schedule, I set deadlines for the end of December, April, and August. But in truth one’s goals don’t always take into consideration one’s limitations, especially when a writer is young. Through high school and college, I had several teachers tell me I should write. But when I started The Quickening at twenty-three, I had far more chutzpah than know-how. I planned to have my first novel under contract before I finished graduate school, to have a second book on the shelves by the time I hit thirty. Even typing these sentences now curls my fingers. Not only did I imagine these things possible, I believed I must accomplish them in order to matter as a writer at all.
This kind of thinking is common for young twentysomethings, but it is also endemic to our society. When compared to other countries, American high school graduates rate relatively low for skills in math, science, and writing, but they top the charts when it comes to confidence. The gap between skill and will is alarming, and it doesn’t necessarily narrow with age. My own focus on end-goals—publication and authorhood—over process—a good day’s work creating flesh and blood—likely delayed my novel for years.
MH: Are goals more a hindrance than a help? Of course not. My Virgoian self still makes lists of deadlines, but more out of an attempt to control chaos than anything else. Instead of not making goals, make the right kind:
Focus on what you learn, not what you produce
We fight to learn how to write our entire lives. But think how successful you will feel if you attempt something more meaningful than counting words. After all, you’re writing a book, not a grocery list.
Ignore the applause
TLC: Writers, truly you need to feel good about your accomplishments. You should feel totally elated after finishing your first or last draft. Everyone needs a pat on the back, but as Michelle says, get back to work...you're not finished yet, my dears.
Don’t wallow in failure