Borrowing the Future in the New Year
I cannot count the number of times that truly talented writers that I know have
given up. After several years of rejection, they simply decided they didn't want to
deal with that anymore. It breaks my heart when I think about all the wonderful
books they will not write. But of course, it is their decision. The writing life isn't
for everyone and rejection is sometimes simply too much to bear.
But writers who keep writing get published. That's what I have seen. Writers who
give up, don't. If you want to be a success, don't dwell on how horrible it feels to be
rejected over and over again. I am not saying that you have to put the feeling away
or deny it. It hurts. I know it hurts. I still get rejected and it still hurts. The hurt will
never go away, I don't think. But it's the way to the future. I don't know why we
have to go through all that rejection. I am not always sure that the books that are
rejected are rejected because they are bad.
But I do know that you can take rejection and use it. You can fuel yourself with
either anger or determination to write the next book. You will write a better book
next time. You will write a book that they can't possibly reject. You won't just
write a book that's good enough. You will write an incredible book. I believe it.
Now, you must believe it, too.
Borrow the future. See yourself successful then, and pull it forward a little to hang
onto. If you can't do this, you will give up. It is an important imaginative exercise.
It's not just goal setting. It goes beyond that, but it starts with setting goals.
One of the things my agent asks his clients to do each year at his annual retreat is
to write a list of goals for our writing future, long term and short term. I always
have long term and short term goals in mind. I am a goal machine. It is one of
those things that I am constantly thinking about, how to get better, what steps the
process will take, what things I care about the most, and so on. In my triathlon life,
I actually found myself setting goals for every race that were too ambitious and
actually made me so nervous that I couldn't sleep the night before. In about four
years of racing, I found that I had only made one race goal, in maybe 40 races. So I
made a goal last year not to make any race goals and I found myself sleeping better
before races and actually improving every race I did so that I was named All
American in my age group this year by the USAT, the national.
It is easy in the triathlon world to see progress. You can measure it fairly simply.
This isn't really true in the writing world. You can measure things like book sales
or number of titles on the New York Times list. Or you can measure awards. Or
stars in journals. Or your amazon sales numbers. Please don't do this. For one
thing, it will make you insane. For another thing, there are ways that a lot of these
things are manipulated and do not mean as much as you might think that they do.
You can look at your royalty check from your publisher, though even that can be
fudged, but do you really want to measure yourself as a writer that way? I hope
that you don't. Of course, some writers are trying to make a living at this, but even
those writers need to give themselves space to write for their own sake or they end
up losing the spark. And we've all read books that have lost that spark. It's sad.
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But my agent asks that we write down goals that are both artistic and financial,
both concrete and less concrete. To me an artistic goal might be something liketrying to write something funny, which is one of the goals I wrote the first time my
agent did this. I tried for years after that to write something funny, and after several
failed projects eventually wrote Tris and Izzie, which came out in October with
Egmont. Of course, not everyone appreciates my humor, but that is one of the risks
that comes with succeeding at a goal. I'm happy that I was able to do this. It fed my
A financial goal that I set at that same time was to sell a series on proposal. I
wanted to be seen as a valuable, bankable enough author by a publisher that they
would take a risk on a few pages and trust me that I could write them into a great
series. That series, which might or might not end up being titled Two Princesses
will probably be out early in 2013 with Egmont. It is likely the best thing I've ever
written, and it's not because of the amount of money I was paid for it. It was the
confidence that I felt when the publisher gave me this offer that made all the
difference in the world.
Now maybe I would have ended up selling a series on proposal anyway, without
having written down that it was one of my goals. Maybe not. Sometimes the act of
naming the thing that we wants enables us to see what it is that we need to do to
get it. And always, setting a goal and then achieving it allows us to look back and
see that we do have some control in our lives, that we are moving forward in a
world that can feel like it is constantly shifting. It is hard to see how you are
making progress as a writer, and this is one of those ways.
Another goal that I set was to figure out how to publish an ebook. I did that this
year, and it wasn't very difficult, after all. The Princess and the Horse is available
on amazon, a sequel to The Princess and the Hound that isn't available as a
When I set goals on my own, I have found time and again that they are rooftop
goals. You know the saying, you should aim for the stars, and then if you fail, at
least you hit the rooftops. I don't aim for the cowpie, but my goals don't really
make it out of this world on their own. I have to have a group of other writers with
me, willing to share their most outrageous goals, and an agent who is there to
encourage us, to say that isn't impossible, that it's OK to dream, that he understands
and supports us and that he will get us as far as he possibly can, that he wants to
know what we want.
You'd be surprised what some of the goals are that come out, that people are afraid
to admit to except in this rarified environment. I remember one author said that he
had always wanted to write a Star Trek book. It was one of his dreams from
childhood, and even though it felt silly for him to still have it as an adult, when he
knew that Star Trek books didn't make the author the same amount of royalties,
and that he would be hampered in his creativity, he still felt that doing it would
satisfy some inner child who was still hungry for that. And my agent made it
happen. (Agents can do this sort of thing and your ordinary writing or support
group maybe can't, but you might be surprised how expressing an idea to other
people in the business might eventually lead to someone knowing someone who
might be able to actually do something about it.)
The goal of another writer I met years ago was to write something that was truly
her own, and not a book that ended up as with a packager. This writer was
someone I admired greatly. I showed her my first published novel and found out
she was actually jealous of me because I was writing what I wanted to write, and
not just to fulfill a contract. She had to make a living at this writing thing, and she
had figured out a way to do it. But it wasn't satisfying her artistically and she
wanted to find a way to do something just for herself. She told me that she had
almost carved out enough time between that day and her next contract that she'd be
able to finish a complete manuscript that she could submit on spec. Sure enough,
about three years later, her incredible book came out and won the National Book
Award. It was truly amazing. Her other books are nothing to sneeze at because she
is a great author and she writes well. But when she had the freedom, when she
demanded of herself the freedom, she was able to do incredible things.
Like my agent, I would encourage you to find a group of authors, maybe a writing
group but not necessarily, with whom you can share your most dangerous goals.
Don't just settle for the rooftop goals. Borrow the future. Dare to imagine what
could happen if all the best things in the world came to you, if you got everything
you wanted. Don't plan on them happening at any specific time, but open yourself
up to the possibility. And then be aware as you achieve these goals that even if you
didn't control them, that your dreaming had an effect a positive one.
It's much easier for me to set triathlon goals that are really high than it is for me to
set writing goals that seem impossible. I think this is simply because, although I
enjoy triathlon very much, it is just a hobby to me. I do it for fun, not because it is
my career or more, because it is who I am, it is my life and everything that I am.
Are you like that as a writer? If so, you may also have trouble admitting to yourself
your deepest, highest, most unreasonable dreams. It is hard for me to write them
down and even harder for me to say them out loud where other people can hear
them. There is this stupid idea in my head that if I don't wish for something, then I
won't be disappointed. And also, that wishing for something big is inviting the
universe to smash you down hard. Hmm, I guess this tells you a little bit too much
about my childhood, eh?
My fear of wishing too big has, in the last few years, extended to my children and
my husband. I find myself unable to even acknowledge to myself what I hope for
them because doing so invites down the universe's displeasure from me to them,
and then it will be my fault, through some bizarre sort of cosmic justice, when they
are smashed down. I know this is irrational. I know it is not protecting me from
anything. And yet I still find those blocks up in my mind when I try on purpose
each night to imagine a rich and fulfilling future for myself and for those that I love
most. Sometimes, if things are bad enough, I feel like I can wish for something just
a little better. But not too much.
But for this coming year, in this time of goal setting, I invite myself and all of you
reading this with me, to give yourselves permission to imagine not just a better
future, but a rich one, beyond your expectations, into those dreams in your heart
that you are afraid to wish even in a whispered way to yourself. Dreaming will not
cause nightmares to appear. Dreaming will not invite the displeasure of the
universe. You cannot dream too big. You cannot dream too much. Dreams are
borrowing from the future, but they don't have to be repaid.
I'm not sure that you must dream first to have good things. I think that I have had
things given to me by a benevolent universe that I did not think to ask for and
could not have imagined in goodness. Bad things, too, I suppose. But I don't see
any reason to believe that holding back on wishing keeps back the bad things. They
come anyway. But perhaps I do believe that refusing to wish keeps back the good
To be daring and to prove that this will not cause anything bad to happen, I am
going to write down some of my excessively optimistic wishes:
1. A movie deal
2. NYT Bestseller status
3. Winning a big award
4. Going to a bookstore signing where people are lined up for me
5. Being asked to keynote speak at a big convention
And I will now hold my head up high and NOT wait for lightning to strike.
Read more by Mette Ivie Harrison