Putting yourself out there, or meeting the writing gods halfway – Barbara Davis

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By Barbara Davis

As a writer, paying your dues can come in many forms, and there are an infinite number of forks that may appear along the road to literary success, depending of course on what success looks like for you. This is how it worked for me.

In 2009 I was working for a national jewelry retailer in upper management, pulling in a salary with quite a few zeros and all the little perks that go with it. Naturally, I had a mortgage and car payment to match. Unfortunately, when the Great Recession hit full stride I was informed that the company I was working for would be closing a portion of its stores and that my position was therefore “geographically unnecessary.” (yes, apparently, it’s a thing)

There was some severance, a few weeks of paid vacation and unused sick time. But mostly, there was terror. And it wasn’t about how I would pay that big fat mortgage. It was about who I was if I wasn’t that job? In one day I went from being on the phone nonstop to my phone not ringing — at all. I was unmoored, untethered, unnecessary. I was also relieved.

It didn’t hit me for several days, but when it did I realized I was burnt out and that I had been for a long time. But I needed a job, right? The kind where the checks come every week and keep the lights one. Needless to say, I was in full-scale meltdown mode.

Luckily, my husband was there to point out that I’d been given an enormous gift — a chance to change gears, to do the thing I had longed to do since I was old enough to hold a pencil. We’d figure it out. We’d get by. Somehow.

And so, I went for it. I began writing the novel that had been banging around in my head for almost five years. Then about halfway through, I decided it might be a good idea to find out if I was onto something or just wasting my time. And so I did the thing that scares most of us to death — I put my work in front of other writers and asked them to tell me the truth. I was terrified, sure that I was going to be told to shelve my dream and go get a real job. I seriously thought I might throw up.

And then that night in the cafe of Border’s bookstore, I was given another gift. I found myself sitting across from a woman who said she was there to simply observe. I thought it was odd at the time, but I was too anxious to pay much attention to anything but my nerves. Thankfully, the feedback was positive and by the time the meeting ended enough blood had returned to my legs to actually stand up and walk to the door.

That’s when the mystery woman approached and introduced herself as Nalini Akolekar, an agent with Spencerhill Literary Agency. She said she was there scouting new talent. She liked what she’d heard and wondered if I would let her read the rest. Two weeks later I had an agency contract. A short time after that I had a two-book deal with Penguin. And none of it would have happened if I hadn’t felt the fear and, well… you know the rest.

So on the surface it might look like I backed into success, and sometimes I actually find myself feeling a few guilt pangs about how “easily” it all happened for me. I dodged the anxiety of pitch sessions, query letters, and stacks of rejections. What I often have to remind myself is that success favors the prepared mind, and over the years I had taken great pains to prepare mine. By reading good books by good authors, studying every book on craft I could get my hands on, asking for and acting on feedback, writing, rewriting, and then rewriting some more — by doing the work and putting myself out there, I had put myself in a position for the Writing Gods to find me.

Bottom line, you have to be willing to do the work, to put in the time, to shed the blood, the sweat, the tears, that will eventually put you in a position to be successful. And I’m not talking about needing an MFA. But you do have to study your craft in whatever ways are open to you, books, seminars, classes at your local community college.

You have to seek solid feedback as scary as it may be, (not your mum or your BFF) and then be willing to apply that feedback. You have to be willing to go back to the drawing board — as many times as it takes. And then there’s the business end of things, knowing how to properly format a manuscript, write a query letter, locate an agent who represents your genre. You have to school yourself on how “it” works. All of it. But mostly, you have to be willing to stick it out, to be scared witless and keep on going, because then and only then can the “Writing Gods” find you.

After spending more than a decade as an executive in the jewelry business, Barbara decided to leave the corporate world to finally pursue her lifelong passion for writing. Love Alice is her forth novel. She currently lives in Rochester, New Hampshire, with her husband Tom, and their beloved ginger cat, Simon, and is working on her next book, anticipated in October 2017.


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