Last year about this time, I posted in a particularly oblique fashion about setting unrealistic goals. I know, I know–it makes no sense to make a goal over which you have no control. Goals should be things that are very firmly in the control of the author–things like, write 1500 words everyday, or, lift weights for 30 minutes three times a week, or, send out ten query letters a week. Anything else, and you’re setting yourself up for failure.
On January 1, 2008, I mentioned that I had three sets of goals–one for July of 2008, one for the end of year, and a ten-year plan. I mentioned some of the ten-year goals, but left 2008 blank on this blog. The truth is, the goals were too unrealistic–too high and mighty–for me to even bother saying them. They were crazy. They were things over which I had no control. They were impossible, ridiculous, and completely unattainable.
Except that I attained them. All of them.
I wanted to sign with one of my top five agents by June. I wanted to sell my book, at auction, by the end of the year. Craziness. It’s nearly impossible to get an agent, and even more impossible to get a publisher. To have an auction not only means you’d have to get at least two houses interested in your manuscript, you’d have to get them interested enough to say, “Yes, yes, we will bid early and often!” And that’s just crazy. It’s like lightning striking, except that is so cliched because lightning strikes all the time.
Some people work well with realistic goals. I applaud those people. Those are the kind of people who are extremely conscientious and very good about crossing all the i’s and dotting all the t’s. They will never make spelling errors in letters to important people, or forget to cross-reference a citation. They will not buy a present for a friend’s birthday and then leave it on their mantel for two months (sorry, Eve) because they plan to go to the post office never today, and always tomorrow. They will never spend three months running a program on extremely powerful government computers only to discover that a memory leak on Line 426 invalidates all the results. NOT THAT I HAVE EVER DONE THAT, ahem.
I’ve never been good at reality. It was totally unrealistic to think I could sign with one of my top five agents. And if I’d known that the top of my top five agents, the incredible Kristin Nelson, was only going to sign two clients in 2008, it would have made the whole dream even more unrealistic.
Still, I dreamed. I knew it was a completely unrealistic dream, but that didn’t stop me from reaching for it. Through the month of January, I rewrote that first book. I would spend 12, 14 hours at work some days, and come home at 11 at night and write until 2 in the morning, only to wake up at 6 AM the next day. I wrote, and I wrote, and I wrote. I didn’t sleep. When I was done, I revised and revised–and caught up at work, because it turned out that 12 hours a day in January hadn’t been quite enough to keep me on task.
At the point in late March when Kristin Nelson asked me to send her the full, I still had maybe 40 hours of work to do–and a huge project at work in the offing. Somehow, I managed to get by on a bare hour or two of sleep for five days in a row, just so I could get it to her.
Out of the 88 full manuscripts Kristin requested, she represented 2 of them. It makes no sense to miss sleep for an extremely busy week on the bare 2.28% chance that you’ll get an offer of representation. But it didn’t matter to me. I was certain–absolutely certain–she’d say no, but it didn’t matter, because if you make an unrealistic goal, you can’t let a little thing like reality stop you from your chance at it.
But Kristin said yes. By the end of July, we had multiple offers on the book and we were going to auction.
Even though it’s been half a year since I met my insane goals, I still can’t believe I did it. If I stop and look down at where I’m standing, I start to think that the ground is shifting beneath my feet, that it can’t possibly hold me. That if I stop and look reality in the eye, I’ll realize this has all been a sham.
And I’m not the only one building a house on quicksand. I’ve heard a lot of doom and gloom in publishing. I know a lot of aspiring authors who think the world is collapsing and they’ll just have to ride out this economic cycle, unpublished until the bitter end. Realistically, they’re right.
But don’t look down. Look up. Look far, far up, as far as you can see, and then imagine somewhere just beyond that. That is what you want–that thing, way up there. It’s unrealistic. It’s unattainable. It’s impossible. It happens to nobody.
Except, maybe, you.
Now I’m off to set unrealistic expectations for 2009. Who’s with me?