A few months ago, I entered an online essay contest. The assigned topic was “What was the best writing advice anyone ever gave you?” I feel that it’s timely advice for all writers who entered Pitch Wars this year, even more so as we close in on the mentor choice announcement on August 25.
If you go looking for writing advice, you’re in luck. I found out first hand that there’s a lot of it out there. I’ve read much of it over the past few years while writing, editing, and seeking representation for my first two novels.
The best piece of advice I received is also probably the simplest. What is it?
It’s common sense, right?
You’ll find those words of encouragement in many places and from multiple people, but there’s one specific person I’ve got in mind who has passed that advice along to me and many other writers. Her message resonates with me not just because I know her, but because I’ve also seen what it’s done for her.
Angela (A.C.) Thomas is one of my critique partners, and my first true friend in the writing community.
In late 2014, after I crashed and burned in my first attempts at querying agents and entering online pitch contests, I came across a post Angela made in a Facebook group devoted to matching up critique partners. I replied to her, and we started working together a few days later.
Like most successful critique partnerships, we both brought different backgrounds, strengths, and skills to the table. We both learned a lot by working together. Besides critiquing our writing, we also boosted each other’s spirits when we experienced contest failures or query rejections.
While querying the Middle Grade novel she had been editing when we began working together, Angela went back to work on a project she’d started years ago – a Young Adult story inspired by the #BlackLivesMatter movement. She was concerned the topic might be too controversial for publishers. But then one day she asked a question about it in a Twitter Q&A session put on by a literary agency. She got encouraging responses from multiple agents during that session.
About two months later, she signed with Brooks Sherman of The Bent Agency, the first agent who responded to her question that day.
Her representation announcement came out during the 2015 #PitchWars contest, which she’d planned to enter until it was clear she would be signing with Brooks. She didn’t waste any time in sharing words of encouragement to other writers.
Angela’s success up to that point inspired me a lot. But the story doesn’t end there. In the following months, she accomplished nearly every dream a debut author could possibly have.
First came the sale of her Young Adult novel, titled The Hate U Give, in a very competitive auction involving thirteen publishers.
About a month later came the sale of the book’s foreign rights in several countries. More rights sold in additional countries over the following months.
Next, the announcement came out that Amandla Stenberg would star in the movie adaptation of Angela’s book.
In the course of about nine months, Angela had achieved so much, yet her success left her in shock. She often expressed her disbelief and gratitude as each new dream came true.
Like many authors, myself included, Angela experienced plenty of self-doubt along the road to success, and feared that her dreams might never be realized. I witnessed some of those struggles firsthand during the months prior to her breakout. When Angela says, “Never give up, keep writing,” I listen. She knows what she’s talking about.
Admittedly, there are still days when rejection drags me down. Days when I worry that I started my writing career too late, or that my age will prevent me from ever finding an agent and being published. Some days I worry that my writing isn’t literary enough, artistic enough, or that my writing voice lacks the flair necessary to achieve my dreams.
No matter the obstacles stacked against me, those are the days I recall Angela’s advice and the message of hope it conveys.
Last summer, I attended a spoken word performance with the theme “How do you kill a dream?” The answer was: You kill a dream when you stop dreaming it. This is the key to unlocking the promise Angela’s advice holds.
Today, I realize that agents can’t kill my dream with their rejections; contest judges can’t kill it by not selecting my entry. That’s because the power to kill my dreams resides in me, and me alone. My dreams will never die unless I let them.
Don’t quit. Keep writing. Don’t ever give up. That’s what keeps your dreams alive.
It’s really as simple as that.