Advice to My Unpublished Self

Chasing a dream is never easy. When we set our sights and our hearts on a seemingly unattainable goal, we are setting out on a journey that will, at times, be interrupted by set-backs and self-doubt. It will often be painful and we will wonder, many times, if it is worth the struggle.

In January 2013, after several years of rejection and frustration, I was ready to give up my dream of being a published writer. Five months later, I had an agent and a two-book publishing deal with HarperCollins. Another year on, my first novel became a New York Times bestseller. Four years later, my books are published around the world, and as my new novel, The Cottingley Secret, is published, I find myself reflecting on that decision to carry on, rather than give up.

Here, I give my unpublished self a few words of encouragement.


This guest post is by Hazel Gaynor. Gaynor is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of A Memory of Violets and The Girl Who Came Home, for which she received the 2015 RNA Historical Novel of the Year award. Her third novel The Girl from the Savoy was an Irish Times and Globe & Mail Canada bestseller, and was shortlisted for the BGE Irish Book Awards Popular Fiction Book of the Year. The Cottingley Secret and Last Christmas in Paris will be published in 2017.


January, 2013

Dear Hazel,

Today sucks. Today is the day you feel like giving up. I don’t blame you for wanting to throw your laptop at the wall, but before you do, I have something to tell you: This is as bad as it gets. This latest rejection is the bottom of the mountain, and I need you to start walking back up it. One step at a time. Here’s ten reasons why.

  1. It will happen. You will be published, and when you are, all these lost days of rejection and despair will disappear in an instant – but only if you keep going. If you stop now, your race is over. If you keep going, you are still in with a chance. Keep showing up. Keep putting those words down. Keep cheering everyone else on. You turn will come. I promise.
  2. Every ‘no’ is one step closer to ‘yes’. You are not a toddler. You don’t get what you want by having a tantrum and saying life isn’t fair. Sit. Think. Focus. Start again.
  3. Rejection isn’t always a bad thing. Failing – if you choose to call it that – can motivate, if you allow it to. So what if an agent or editor doesn’t like your work, or says it isn’t for them. Never stop believing in yourself or the story you want to tell. Find the people it is for. They are out there. Waiting. As Beckett said, “Fail again. Fail better.”
  4. You can’t not write. I know you say you’re giving up but really, you can’t, because you adore writing. When you feel broken by rejection, your reaction is to express your feelings in words. There is no giving up for you. There is only the next blank page to fill. Get to it.
  5. This is just the start. These agonising periods of waiting and wondering and doubting won’t stop with a published book. Consider this as an apprenticeship. Think of everything you write as a training run for the long, exhilarating race ahead. Nothing is wasted. Ever. While you’re waiting for the ‘Yes’, learn to wait better.
  6. These quiet, invisible days before publication are special. This is when you get to write without the pressure of a deadline or the middle-of-the-night dread of early reviews. Take a moment to remember why you are doing this, why you love writing. You are creating magic on a blank page. Creating something out of nothing. It’s pure alchemy.
  7. When it comes, never apologise for your success, or play down your achievements. Only you will ever know the truth and the struggle behind your ‘lucky break’. Don’t let anyone take that away from you.
  8. Find your tribe. Find writers who get what you’re going through. Find the friends who will pour the tea when you’re struggling, and pour the champagne when you’re celebrating; those who will cheer you up and cheer you on. They are as essential to your success as your imagination and your tenacity.
  9. Celebrate milestones. Always. The end of a first draft. The end of a book. The start of a new one. Be kind to yourself. Be your own cheerleader. Do whatever it is that makes you smile. Go for a run. Eat cake. Clean out the garage. Have coffee with the friends you have neglected for months. And then get back to work.
  10. Trust your instincts, and be brave. Challenge yourself. Ask yourself hard questions. Don’t take the easy route. Aim higher. Scare yourself. You won’t know what you are capable of until you try.

Above all, never forget these lost days when you feel so uncertain and unsure. When you sit at your writing desk (yes, you will graduate from the kitchen table) and sign the contract for your fifth novel, take a moment to remember these tears. They are, after all, what got you here.

Everything you ever dreamed of is waiting for you. Stop now, and you’ll never know what could have been. Keep going and you give yourself the chance to know. Dry your tears, put the kettle on, roll up those sleeves and get writing. There are people out there waiting to read your words.

What are you waiting for?

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Brian A. Klems is the editor of this blog, online editor of Writer’s Digest and author of the popular gift book Oh Boy, You’re Having a Girl: A Dad’s Survival Guide to Raising Daughters.

Follow Brian on Twitter: @BrianKlems
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4 thoughts on “Advice to My Unpublished Self

  1. breid11

    Really enjoyed this. Although I’m a published poet, as a wannabe novelist I’m feeling exactly as Hazel describes — I am taking every bit of advice to heart. Thank you!

  2. LuckyOne

    This is amazing! Thank you so much Hazel. Your words are exactly what I needed to read just now.

    Here’s to continued success to you!

    Andrew

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