“every time a bell rings an angel gets his wings.” Zuzu Bailey, It’s a Wonderful Life
Every time I check my Amazon report and see I have sold a book, that quote pops into my mind. Only I change it to “every time a book sells a writer gets his validation.”
I started self-publishing my books this year. I’m very new to this game. I spent a good year researching how to publish and market books. For me, writing a novel is easy. The stories and words flow out of me at the rate Antarctic is melting–which I’m really worried about, incidentally.
There are so many things I don’t do well. I’m terrible at filling out forms to the point of enrolling kids at the wrong summer camps, while at the same time accidentally checking the box saying one of them has mental illness. Also, there is no place in my mind for numbers. I have to carry around a cheat sheet with number I need to know (usually to fill out forms) such as my social security number, my PIN, and even my own phone number.
When asked for my cell phone number I frequently give out my daughter’s. Getting so many phone calls from my friends has probably added to my daughter’s mental illness.
I’m a terrible driver. I live for the day someone decides I’m too old to drive. I have strange ways to get get around town so I can avoid nerve wracking routes , such as any route where I have to make a left turn.
But one thing I do well is write novels. Realizing this about myself was a long process fit for another blog post. The process involved giving myself permission to write. It involved stopping comparing myself to other writers like James Joyce or Joyce Carol Oates. Dr. Joyce Brothers. All Joyces. The process involved finding my focus and defining my genre and then not beating myself up over the fact that it turns out my genre is romance novels. Believe it or not, the fact that I’m a romance writer took me by surprise–and it wasn’t a pleasant surprise at the time.
I did the popular NaNoWriMo challenge. If you don’t know what is, it’s a self-challenge to write 50k words in one month. I sat down November 1 without a clue of what I was going to write. I finished my first draft on November 22. Over 50k words. I printed out copies and gave it to a few friends, who were kind enough to be my beta readers. Then I asked them, “Is this a thing?”
All my Betas enjoyed my novel, but one of my friends asked me in a hushed voice, “Is this a romance?” “No!” I replied. Don’t insult me. What I wrote is a great piece of literature. Please. I was stung.
After licking my wounds, I took a breath and researched the genre. Sure enough, I had written a romance novel in that the main story line is about two characters falling in love. They meet, have strong chemistry, hook up, have conflicts based on their personal wounds, break up, and then (smile) get back together and live happily ever after.
Further I discovered not only am I a romance writer, but I’m a romance reader! I try to make romances out of non-romances. When I read books like Gone Girl, and all my friends are disgusted with the duplicitous, morally weak characters, I’m shouting out all the way to the end of the book, “Come on guys, work it out!”
I’ve come to embrace my romantic soul, which gave me a focus. I’ve been on the express train to novel writing since. Knocking out novels like glaciers calving chunks the size of states into the ocean.
Let’s get back to how this relates to validation. I think every hurdle I had to leap over in the process of becoming a writer was set on the ground of validation.
The problem was I was looking for validation in all the wrong places. I was looking to other people for it. And I know this! I have learned this lesson time and time again in other areas of my life. don’t depend on outside validation. But when it came to writing, I was wandering around with a stub in my hand asking “Do you validate?”
Other people are too busy worrying about their own things. Did I leave the oven on? Should I be taking my dog to the dog park? Does my dog even need to socialize with other dogs? Is my teen smoking weed? Are my roots showing? These are all things I worry about, by the way.
Sometimes you get lucky and have a really terrific friend who validates you, or sometimes you get a nice surprise validation like a good review on one of your books. Only unlike the angel who gets to keep her wings, a person who relies on outside validation, will inevitably find they lose their validation.
In the mornings I make myself a green smoothie, because I’m also super health conscious. Generally this procedure goes well, but occasionally I forget to screw the blender tight to the base. I turn my back, and when I go back to my blender I find the liquid is seeping out on my counter at an alarming rate (take a minute to remember Antarctica).
It is the same with my psyche. There are times I forget to screw the lid on tight, and my validation leaks all over the place, leaving me an empty vessel. I have my shaky days.
Validation from others is great. I appreciate every complement, every book sold, and every good review. I love the moments like when someone called me at midnight to say they were mad at me, because their alarm was set for 5am, but they couldn’t put my book down.
But outside validation is an ephemeral thing. How many times do I have to learn this lesson?
If you only please one person and that person is yourself, that’s enough. Really. It is. I love writing. If others enjoy my writing, that’s icing on the cake. I love writing so much I turn down even tempting invitations if they conflict with my writing time. The thought of losing a day of being able to sit down at my computer and write makes my chest tighten and hurt.
When I’m not working on something new, I’m rereading and editing older works. I love doing both exercises equally. When I come back to something I wrote months ago and then put aside, enough time has passed that even I don’t know what’s coming half the time: I have been so wrapped by in another story I forgot the story line of the other.
I liken rereading old works in progress to shopping at Trader Joe’s. I go in with a grocery list of things I need, but oh, the tempting goodies at the ends of the aisles! I didn’t know there was coconut pancake mix. By the time I reach the check out counter and the cheerful cashier is unloading my cart–and they’re always so cheerful and chatty at Trader Joe’s, aren’t they?–I stand there in shock and wonder. Who put all these tasty treats in my cart!?! Sweet potato chips weren’t on my list, but they are so delightful.
Same thing happens to me when I reread a romance I wrote earlier. Did he really say that? He’s SO funny! How delightful. I sit on my bouncy ball (because that’s what I sit at my desk at. It keeps my gluts firm), and I smile. That’s enough validation.