Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Happy Writers: On Hope

From the dictionary:

1. n. The feeling that what is wanted can be had or that events will turn out for the best.

6. v. To look forward with desire and reasonable confidence.

I've wanted to write a post about hope for a long time, but every time I attempted it didn't come out right. Probably because I didn't fully understand how I felt about hope at the time, and I think now I'm starting to.

I had a lot of hope when I first started writing. You might even say more hope than a newbie writer ever should have. I will fully admit to daydreaming about being on the Today Show for my awesome future books, being a bestseller, winning awards, everything. At that point, it felt like everything was in my grasp if I just kept reaching.

And, well, it was true. I didn't know what my publishing road would hold, and who was to say I was aiming too high?

So I started with an extra full tank of hope, a lot of misconceptions about publishing, and an old school edition of Writer's Marketplace. I quickly learned that an agent might be a good idea, and a Google search or two taught me about them and query letters. I wrote one, had a friend who had never tried to publish (but he was a writer!) read it, and sent it to five poor agents.

All rejections.

That hope tank dropped a little. Not much, mind you, it was just five rejections, and I had no I idea then just how low I could get. But it was my first moment of doubt—the opposite of hope. Could I really do this? Was I kidding myself?

I bounced back pretty quickly, though. I wrote a new book. I found crit partners. I did more research and made a longer list of agents. I started blogging in sincerity. I turned my remaining abundance of hope into action, lots and lots of action.

But I kept failing.

I'm not proud of it, but those failures *did* chip away at my hope. As the years passed, as the books in my vault piled up (to TEN before I signed with an agent), as I watched friends find success, I slowly stopped believing in myself and my dreams. And then I did get an agent, but my novel sat on submission for fifteen months going nowhere. I am not kidding when I say I was one step away from walking away last year. I had so little hope in myself and my work that it didn't seem worth it anymore.

Trying to publish over the space of three years got me a heavy helping of depression and anxiety and pressure. The waiting chipped away at my lofty dreams day by day. I hated my hope. I attempted to blot out any shred left in me. It was hope's fault—if I hadn't had such high hopes to begin with, I wouldn't be in so much pain. I felt like such an idiot, chasing dreams I couldn't make come true. I'd fallen for the lie of hope, fallen for believing I could be more, fallen for reaching something I could never attain.

Then I was given the perfect out—my agent was leaving the business! If there was any time to leave, it was then. My sub project was basically dead in the water. I despised my WIP. And I didn't have to take Agent Anna's offer. I was off the hook, basically handed a Get Out Of Jail Free card on a golden platter.

But even then, a little niggling hope remained.

The hope I thought I despised was still there, despite my best efforts to murder it, and it said, "One more time. One more book. Keep trying. You can do this." I tried to ignore it, but it worked inside me. "Stop ignoring me. Stop putting yourself through unnecessary pain. I am not your enemy."

I didn't quite believe its claims, but one more try sounded reasonable. I was almost done with revisions on TRANSPARENT. I could stick it out another six months, and then if it didn't work out I could definitely say I gave it my all.

Well, it sold. It wasn't the Big Lofty Dream Deal. I know I won't be on the Today Show or the NYT Bestseller list. But the dang book sold! Hope was right, dangit, even if it took longer than I thought and didn't happen how I fantasized. I kept reaching, and eventually I grasped what I'd always wanted.

Strangely enough, though, my hope was still low. Heck, I'm still working on fighting the constant doubt and fear.

But I've learned something lately—hope was never the problem. All these years I've been blaming hope for all my pains, when really it was the loss of hope that caused my pain. When I faced rejection or setbacks, I hate to admit it, but I let them get to me. I set aside my hope for success and let doubt creep in, with its bosom friends frustration, bitterness, and impatience. The more time that passed, the more I allowed myself to hang out with doubt and feel sorry for myself.

I handled waiting in every possible wrong way. And the truth is, it's those times, when nothing is happening and you are just living normal, boring life, that you become the person you are. The Big Moments are just moments, and depending on how you handled the rest of the time either sweetens or embitters them.

Some people might say hope is foolish—I certainly would have said that last year—but it's a necessary part of the human spirit. Hope, reaching for more than now, more than we are, is what makes us grow and flourish and find happiness in an otherwise painful existence. I don't think I ever reached true hopelessness, but I did get close enough to put the fear in me. It was prison, pain, and a kind of despair I wouldn't wish on anyone.

And I was the one who put myself there.

Never let go of hope, no matter how foolish it may seem. It is hope that will get you through the worst of times. When you're one step from falling into an endless pit of darkness, it will whisper, "Keep trying. It'll work out. I believe in you." Don't listen to doubt, frustration, bitterness, or impatience. Listen to hope. It might feel like it will hurt you, but really it's the other things that are killing you.

My newest goal is to be hopeful, in everything I do. After a couple years of doubting myself at every turn, this isn't easy, but I can feel the weight lifting already. I hope it continues.


  1. You're inside my head I think. I've been on subs exactly one year. Today in fact. I've got three editors looking at two of my books right now and a handful of rejections in my pocket. But the longer this goes on, the more I feel like I've just been deluding myself all these years. Every day that goes by with no good news feels like another nail in the proverbial coffin of my dreams. It is hard not to be angry and sad and bitter all the time. But you're right. Hope still lingers, just along the periphery. I really needed this post today! Thank you.

  2. Yeah, I hear you. I played the query game for ten years. Every partial and full floating out there felt like hope, and every personalized rejection had the sting that then followed up with the possibility of hope - hey it was personalized :)

  3. This is beautiful, Natalie. Thank you so much for posting it. It's an encouragement - you are an encouragement. Thanks. :)

  4. Isn't it funny, but all I could think while reading this post was Emily Dickinson:

    "Hope is the thing with feathers
    That perches in the soul,
    And sings the tune--without the words,
    And never stops at all,

    And sweetest in the gale is heard;
    And sore must be the storm
    That could abash the little bird
    That kept so many warm.

    I've heard it in the chillest land,
    And on the strangest sea;
    Yet, never, in extremity,
    It asked a crumb of me."

    Thank you for the reminder to keep hoping.

  5. Everyone needs hope no matter what they do in life. Without hope we get depressed. I've felt hopeless and I've felt hope. Hope is better. :)

  6. There are interesting theories on why hope was in Pandora's Box.

  7. Wow, this is bending my mind. The loss of hope is what causes pain, not the hope itself? It makes sense. It really does. Thanks for pointing that out, because I thought just the opposite, and now I wonder why! Thanks!

  8. Hope is a wonderful, blissful thing. And to still have it even while facing the truth of what we live--that is REAL hope.

    I will hold onto mine. And if you lose yours at any point, I'll have some extra saved away.

  9. You rock, girl! I totally needed this today.

  10. Go, Natalie! Hope is never wrong. It keeps us going through the darkest of hours. Only doubt and fear truly stand in our way.

  11. Things I needed for life: this blogpost. Things I will be quoting when I have doubts and hoping seems hopeless: this blogpost.

  12. I wandered in from Michelle's tweet.

    We all doubt ourselves at times, I know I do. I have to write what I feel and I don't look back. If, someday, what I feel touches others, then great!

    I'm happy you held out and found a home for Transparent.

  13. I just left a comment on one of your September posts where you talked about being burned out with blogging....Glad you're trying to be hopeful!
    Ann Best, Author of In the Mirror, A Memoir of Shattered Secrets

  14. The quantity of my hope is dynamic. Reaching epic levels some days to barely there levels the next. On those low days I remind myself of the hope I had and ask myself why am I filling myself with negative thoughts and energy. As long as I'm hopeful, I'm productive and happy. It's when I lose hope that things get dark. And as you said, this is all self induced.
    Fantastic post, and Yay! for never losing hope!

  15. What a fantastic post! I loved reading it for the simple fact that you were honest and spilled your heart onto that page. Congrats to you for never losing hope completely. It was always there, it just got lost for a while. Stay strong! Keep writing!

  16. Very well said. Hope is what allows us to keep trying. Keep believing. There ain't nothing wrong with that. :)

  17. I love you for posting this today. Thanks, Nat.

  18. Thank you for this inspiring post. I'm in the first "5-rejection" level and I'm already ringing my hands and pacing about. I'm not sure what's wrong with my writing, or if it is, in fact, terrible. Trying to hold onto hope is like trying to grasp at smoke --- you can't unless you are inventive, unless you think outside the box. And for me it's not so much as losing the hope that I have, but losing the gumption that is fueled by that hope.

    I think losing that is the worst of it, because you wind down like a toy, slowly, until you quit.

  19. I love this post. The message, the honesty, & the writing. And I am SO happy for all the goodness & fresh hope back in your life. :D


  20. Thanks for this. I totally needed to hear it today. I'm so glad that you've got a book deal and that you held on.

  21. Just read about your butterfly wings and book signing on Michael Offutt-SLC Kismet blog. Congratulations on not giving up and hoping for more!

  22. Thank you so much for the inspiring words! It's so generous of you to share your tribulations, as I'm sure lots of struggling writers out there (like myself) seem to think that they're in this alone, when in fact they are not, and that it's the encouragement and motivation from fellow writers, and most of all, HOPE, that keeps you going.

    This article came at a useful point in my writing career, as I'm querying my novel and waiting on an agent who requested a full. Trying to be realistically optimistic!


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  23. Thanks Natalie - I will hold on to these thoughts for a long time, even when despair tells me we're both being daft ;)

  24. Thank you for that. Having hope is a kind of bliss.
    When you start doubting yourself and start losing it, it really feels like you're crushed.
    I admire your perseverance and I can't wait to read Transparent.

  25. Thank you so much for this post. This is going in the future reference Evernote file. I need to remember this, not just in the "I want to be a writer" world, but also my real world.

  26. Thanks for the inspiring post. I've added you to my blog roll. :)

    It is really difficult to keep our hope through trying times, I agree. I've had my own struggles with the publishing industry, and having to fire my agent was an all-time low.

    But nothing depressed me more than when I considered giving up on my dreams and losing hope. It may cause some pain to dream big, but I think it causes a lot more not to dream at all.

  27. Thanks for that. Really. Just reading it sustains me. So thanks!

  28. Thank you for this post. I have just about lost hope on some things in life. It's so easy to be consumed by negativity - once it gets a foothold in our minds it never stops manifesting, and hope always seems so frail. I'm just sticking it out trying to convince myself that it's always darkest before dawn.

  29. You're always at your best when you write this way.

    6.44am here at the start of what looks to be a pretty wretched week. You have NO IDEA how timely this post is.

  30. Very nice post! I needed to hear that message. Dangling on the last shred of a badly frayed rope over the pit of "I should just quit," and "how long are you going to beat a dead dog," despair, butter knife poised and gnawing away the life in that last thread. The Hope Monster, all but pronounced dead. So now instead, perhaps, a little C.P.R. is in order...STAT.

  31. Natalie,
    Thanks for an amazing post. You are an inspiration to all of us who persevere at the craft. I try not to lose sight of this thought: it's the writing itself that motivates me, not the desire to get published. Thanks again for sharing your thoughts.

  32. This is a post I'll carry with me in my heart. My publisher just sent the first book in my private detective series out for reviews, so hope ebbs and flows. I'll cling to it all the same. Thank you!

  33. Hi, Natalie,
    I put a link to this post in my current post, The Impossible Dream? Yes!
    After all, your post jostling around in the back of my brain was part of my inspiration, I'm sure. Thanks!