Let's paint the picture. I used to write all the time as a kid. In fact, I vividly remember in 8th grade drafting a mini-series about a teenager who had to save the mall from nefarious forces. It was the early 90's. We didn't have internet in our house yet, and the mall was everything. Everyone used to complement my speech and my writing. Well, come high school, I decided that writers didn't make money and put it aside. (To be fair, I was right. LOL)
Jump to adult me. I'd become consumed with reading. There was always a library book on my table, because I read too damn fast to purchase everything. And one of my favorite series took a turn I ABSOLUTELY hated. Then it happened again, where I thought, "Damn. I wish the story ended like this. Even I could write that better." I kept saying that until someone called me on my bullshit. No, I wasn't experienced in how publishing worked. I wasn't writing anything more than book reviews, but people seemed to enjoy them, so I figured what the hell, and gave story-telling a shot.
With only one successful NaNoWriMo under my belt and many failed attempts, I decided to enter a writing contest. Because I was young and stupid, and didn't think about what it meant for a potential career to splatter seriously sub-par writing across the interwebs. It was a contest calling for "New Voices" so I figured, that's me, so I should enter.
I tossed up the first couple chapters. Used my anonymous internet handle to post under, and kind of forgot about it. Then I got an email, saying I needed to update my profile to include a phone number. I figured, what the hell, and did it. The next day, my phone rang. I was one of the top 20 entrants, and I had to use my real name, and they were matching me with a real published author, and I had to get real feedback on my work.
Holy shit, was I unprepared for that. Here's a tip. Find a writing group. Find someone who will honestly critique your work, and find someone who is just plain mean to rip it apart in detail before you ever send it to someone in the publishing world. Because getting detailed feedback, using terms you haven't even thought about since that high school english class you only sort of paid attention to, is rough.
But I didn't know that yet. I knew I was in the top 20 and I might even make it to the top 10. Who knew? So I updated my profile, and then started reading the comments. Wow. Talk about a blow to the ego. Some folks loved my voice, but others started talking about how I'd completely ripped off a TV series. A TV series, I'd never heard of before.
This was my story. I never even heard of this show. So how could I have ripped it off? I went and looked it up and got my ass schooled. Holy shit. My base story line was incredibly similar. My cast, at least the two main characters, was incredibly similar. And my setting was damn near identical. I started to freak out.
Looking back on this situation, my story line wasn't the same, and there were big differences in the HEA relationship part of the story, which is kind of the whole point of a romance, but I wasn't in the headspace to say that. I was far too worried about what anonymous people online thought.
My freak out began slow. I took a while to respond to my mentor each time she emailed me. (And if I ever run into her again, I owe the woman a serious round of shots for dealing with me.) And then I did something I regret more than anything.
I gave up.
I didn't know how to make the manuscript changes the woman was suggesting, and I was too embarrassed to ask her to clarify. I also couldn't take the comments online that I wasn't good enough. Basically, I wasn't ready to move forward in this business yet, and that contest showed me in big neon flashing lights, that natural talent, or even a spark of a great story, doesn't mean dick if you aren't prepared to work on it. I cannot express how much work that story needed. I went back to it after my first book was published, and um...wow. That book will never see the light of day.
I let the emails go unanswered, and when they informed me I'd won a prize for making the top 20, I didn't reply with my address. I didn't want the prize because in my eyes I'd failed.
I regret letting that interaction, and possible connection die off the way it did. Looking at my current catalogue, I wouldn't have fit well with that publisher anyway. They don't usually publish in the heat level I write, but making connections is the most important part of getting your foot in the published door.
Hiding from real feedback was my sign that I wasn't ready. While it wasn't my most shining moment, it was part of my journey. I flaked out. But I wanted to share it with you guys in case any of you have done something stupid too. Please, don't let me be the only one.
It took a decent amount of prompting from a friend to get me back in the game after that, but the pull to write was stronger than my pride, and I took another chance. Now that I'm in the process of rebuilding again, I have to remember what I've already come back from. At least this time, I know I can do it.