Book Reviews, Musings

March Forth

It’s March 4th, and for the past several years this day has taken on a new meaning for me, as not just a date but a rallying cry: March forth! Keep marching onward, continue moving forward and work toward your goals. While I do make New Year’s resolutions each year, this time of year feels like the true beginning. The days are longer, the mornings brighter, and spring finally feels near.

Four years ago in March, I started writing the novel that had been bouncing around my head for years. Since then, each year on March 4thI have reevaluated my goals and progress. Basically, I decide if I’m going to re-up as a writer. Am I willing to continue this journey, despite the rejections, the unpredictability, the lack of any sort of guarantee? Each year, through March of 2019, I’ve said yes. I will continue.

But in December of 2019, I thought I was done. 

I’d just been through a pretty crushing writing defeat, and it seemed like a clear sign from the universe that I was never going to “make it” as a writer. I felt like a failure and an embarrassment. I’d lost all confidence in myself, my writing voice, and my creative intuition. I couldn’t face any more rejection, and I had no interest in writing a new novel, either. But because I always finish what I start, I decided to revise my current manuscript so my agent could take it back out on submission for one last round. After that, I’d be done. Time to move on and focus on something that could give me tangible results. Maybe I’d take up crochet. Everyone likes scarves, right?

But even though I couldn’t imagine continuing to write, I knew I needed to address the dysfunctional thoughts that were causing such overwhelming feelings of failure. At the bare minimum, I wanted to feel proud of what I’d accomplished and confident in my path moving forward. For the next few weeks, I grappled with this. I listened to podcasts and read books and journaled and meditated and had long, angsty conversations with my critique partner, my other writing friends, and my husband. They all deserve medals for that, by the way. I was a mess.

Then one day I heard something that stopped me in my tracks. Brooke Castillo, a master life coach, said in a podcast, “The only reason we want anything is because of how we think it will make us feel.”  

My first reaction, quite frankly, was that this was bullshit. It had nothing to do with my writing aspirations. Back when I was querying, I didn’t want an agent so I could feel good about myself, I wanted an agent so I could get a book deal. And after I signed with my agent, I wanted a book deal that would launch a long and successful writing career. “Feelings” had nothing to do with it. I had objective, measurable goals, and this woo-woo emotional crap wasn’t going to help me at all. 

But then I did more listening, more reading, more journaling and thought work. And I realized this statement is absolutely correct. Most of us aren’t good at identifying the reasons behind our goals, especially the deeper emotional ones, but when you boil it all down, we want to achieve these goals because we think they will make us feel a certain way. Example: when I was querying, I wanted to sign with an agent because I wanted the feeling of confidence that I believed would come from knowing that someone in the business believed in me as a writer and that I was one step closer to being published. 

Once I accepted this, I got to work. I started by making a list of my writing goals, hopes, and dreams. Then I asked myself why I wanted to achieve them and wrote down the first answer that came to mind. Then I asked myself why I wanted that. I kept asking and answering that same question until I figured out the feeling I was searching for.

Here are a few examples:

  1. I want to see my book in actual, brick-and-mortar bookstores. Why? Because it will mean I’ve “made it.” Why do I want that? So people will respect me as a writer. Why do I want people to respect me? What emotionam I after? Well, I want to feel respected, and if my book is in bookstores, I believe that I will. 
  2. I want to make X amount of money as a writer. Why? Because then I won’t feel guilty for all those hours I spent alone in my makeshift office, ignoring the laundry and the dirty kitchen floor. Writing will be a real job and not simply a hobby. Therefore, I believe that if I can make X amount of money as a writer, I will feel justifiedin spending time and energy on this creative pursuit. 
  3. You know what? I don’t even care if my book sells very many copies. I just want it to be published and read by someone. Why do I want that? So I can know that my story is out in the world. Why is that important? Because I believe that it can help people. If someone out there is reading my book, I will feel satisfiedknowing that my writing has touched other people. 

Then came the interesting part. I asked myself what was stopping me from feeling this way now. What if all these feelings were available right now, right where I am in my writing journey, even without achieving any of those goals? Even more mind-blowing: what if those feelings have been available to me all along? Even when I was writing my first draft of my very first “practice” novel, even while deep in the query trenches, even after receiving feedback from a dozen editors that my book was good but not good enough.

I can choose to believe that if my book never publishes, there is no way I can feel respected as a writer, or fulfilled creatively, or proud of myself. But what if it waspossible? Maybe there are other paths I could take, other goals I could work toward. What might that look like?

I can’t control if anyone else respects me—even if my book garnered a seven-figure advance, that doesn’t guarantee respect—but I can respect myselfas a writer. I can structure my days to include time for creative pursuits while also balancing my other responsibilities. And as for reaching people through my writing? I can do that in lots of ways besides a traditionally published novel.

This year on March 4th, I am happy to say that I’m re-upping, though it isn’t with the bright-eyed optimism of the first couple years or even the steely determination of last year. This year, I’m choosing to continue this writing journey knowing that nothing is guaranteed. All I can control is my own experience, my own thoughts and feelings, my own response to the doubts that crop up at one o’clock in the morning and whisper that my writing is boring and derivative, that none of it matters, that I should stop embarrassing myself and quit already. 

But guess what? Even if I do end up with a book deal, even if I sell a million copies or become a #1 New York Times bestseller for fifty-seven weeks in a row, I will still have to face my own demons and insecurities—and, let’s be honest, there will be certainly be more pressure. No matter where my path as a writer leads, I will still have to make the decision, every day, to sit down at my desk and face the blank page. To keep marching forth.

18 thoughts on “March Forth”

  1. Amen. We have to keep the faith and believe in our book babies, even when it feels as if no one else does. There are no guarantees, but we write anyway. I’ve come close to quitting many times in the last two years. Some weeks the stress, the rejection, the negativity, the lack of money, the zero benefits, the social stuff I give up to write, the push and pull of family versus my writing time don’t seem worthwhile. “Quit and try for a job at Trader Joe’s,” I often tell myself. But my fiction is how I process life. It’s my escape and my therapy. And I know that in some corner of the world, my stories make a difference to others. (I have letters from people who believe that my novels saved their lives. Seriously.) Fiction matters. To quote Sir Winston Churchill: KBO. (Look that one up!)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s so helpful for unpublished writers like me to see that even those authors who have achieved a certain goal are still facing the same emotions and struggles. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts.

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  2. March 4 will never be the same for me again after reading your post! I have been in Freudian psychoanalysis to learn to have deep conversations w/myself like you do. I am impressed you are feeling the urge realistically this time, to continue writing. You can find me : nickymendenhall.com. would love to be in contact w/ you!

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  3. Thank you for sharing this. You have given me a lot of food for thought on what feelings I may be chasing and how I can have them now. And I love the idea of having an anniversary to re-up. Because of what you shared today, you have my respect! Here’s to Marching Forth!

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  4. I just want to give you a hug. Thank you for your honesty. Everything you say is true, and I daresay most of us have felt it. I went another route that still allows me to have my dream. I never really believed in the big 5 publishing dream, but I did believe in the wanting, needing to hold a book in my hand where I was the author. I do want to see what I write given an opportunity to be read. Have you considered other than? Other than the Big 5? I went with a reputable small press. It’s small, it’s slow, however it bends over backwards in editing to produce a good book. it even does some of the promo work – not much. But some. If you ever want to talk small press, come see me.

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  5. This is SO good, and so kind of you to share this honest feeling that most of us feel. I recently read something from an agent’s POV about authors and their “happiness level” with the book process. We yearn to get the agent, sure it will make us happy. We get the agent and then yearn for a publisher to offer a deal. We get the deal and wait for the happiness coming when the book is published. Our book is published, and still, that perceived happiness level isn’t there – or it is there but only for a fleeting moment.
    She said “be happy NOW. Be happy that you wrote what you wrote, achieved that step.”
    Kudos to you for airing this dirty little secret that most of us carry around.
    We keep going, because NOT writing, isn’t an option for us. We need to get the stories out of our head and on to paper.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. This is a beautiful post and I’m so glad to hear that’s where you’ve ended up for now, even though I know we never really end up anywhere. It so true that the only thing you/we can control is ourselves, but I feel like that’s a lesson I have to keep learning. For what it’s worth, which is so counter to the point you’re trying to make it’s almost wrong that I say it, your writing, the small bits I’ve been lucky enough to read, have affected me as has your light in the worlds. March forth!!

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  7. Man this post gave me all the feels and make me think so hard and also inspired me to help others during those moments of just god damn it wanting to give up – which we all have, but are 100x harder with depression.

    I just tweeted the following (in case you truly don’t log on there for another 3 months!).

    Writing is hard, folks and so is life.

    And sometimes you want to give up.

    And maybe you should stop writing.

    But if you inspire others by sharing your truth like @bradeighgodfrey it would be a huge loss to the rest of us.

    Thank for inspiring with your honesty, Bradeigh😘

    I love the idea of why can’t we feel right now like the truth we are seeking?

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