Here’s a little story I’ve told at several discussion groups and workshops on writing that I’ve led. It’s just as valid now as every time I’ve told it. Remember it—because it’s one of the few lessons I can teach you that I consider absolutely vital for aspiring writers. Or for anybody pursuing a career that takes practice, talent, and skill.
On December 17th, 1993, I was recuperating from pneumonia when I made the mistake of eating some popcorn. I coughed, inhaled an un-popped kernel, and couldn't breathe. My husband was at work and I was home alone.
Within seconds, everything started going fuzzy as I realized I couldn’t dislodge the kernel. Somehow, I managed to stand up and the moment I did, I promptly fainted. Luckily, when I hit the floor the popcorn dislodged and I started breathing again. A few minutes later, I regained consciousness.
I was okay, I hadn’t suffered any permanent damage. The only thing different about my life was that it had almost ended within the past five minutes. And that fact made all the difference in my world.
Shaking and crying, I sat at my desk, thinking about what had happened. I wasn’t afraid of dying, per se—years before I’d made my peace with the concept of mortality. What bothered me was that I began to think about what I would have regretted if I’d actually died that night.
And the one regret that cropped up—besides missing my wonderful new husband and my cats more than I could imagine—would have been that I hadn’t published a book yet. I’d wanted to be a writer since I was three. I had a number of novels in my closet that I’d written but never managed to get more than a nibble on from agents and publishers. And I goofed off more than I wrote, and made excuses for why I wasn't trying harder.
Right then, my priorities shifted. I strengthened my resolve that, damn it, I was going to get published and I’d do what it took to achieve my goal. I was at a crossroads in my writing and I knew it. At that moment, I decided that—no matter how many rejections I received—I had to persevere and to work toward my goal on a daily basis. That night was a turning point. It led me to realize this simple truth: if I wanted to make it as a writer, I had to develop professional writing habits and self-discipline.
I used to say, “Someday, when I publish a book—” but the truth of the matter is that someday almost never came. Someday might never come. People die every day. People get hit by buses, have car wrecks because of deer, drunk drivers, black ice. People have heart attacks, are random targets for road rage. People have accidents, get killed, people do choke to death. And I was almost one of the statistics. There’s no guarantee that any of us will be alive tonight.
A near-death experience or a loved one’s sudden demise triggers an awareness of just how quickly life can be snuffed out. It changes our perception. We no longer look at life the same again when we understand how fragile it can be. And suddenly, taking life for granted seems like a colossal sin. Wasted time is the one thing we can’t recover.
And so I began to live deliberately. No, I don’t treat each moment like it’s my last, but I make sure that I’m doing what I want to be doing, even if it’s sitting there, watching TV.
In the months following my near-death experience, I tried to become more flexible in what I wrote, I tried out new approaches, I quit saying “I should be writing this” and experimented with other forms, other subjects. I began to study the editing and revision process with renewed enthusiasm.
It took another three years but in April 1996, I sat in the car, hugging my first book contract to my chest, crying. My dream had been realized, I’d achieved a lifelong goal. A legitimate publisher wanted to publish my book. The fact that it was nonfiction didn’t matter. I’d moved from ‘aspiring writer’ to ‘author’ and there would be a book with my name on it, sitting on the bookshelves, and a publisher was going to pay me to write it.
I had manifested my dream. I also realized, in that moment, that I would never have achieved my goal if I had slacked off or made excuses for why I couldn’t write this or that day, or if I’d spent my time partying or shopping or goofing around rather than knuckling down to do the actual work.
Now, sixteen years after almost dying, and thirteen years since I received my first contract, I have fourteen novels, one anthology, and eight nonfiction books on the bookstore shelves and many more coming out.
I’m a New York Times bestselling author. I’m writing three books a year for Berkley. I've spoken at a number of conventions and groups. I’ve also discovered that the other side of publishing—the professional one—is a lot harder work than most aspiring writers ever want to believe it is. But it’s worth it because it’s what I love to do.
Nothing is more satisfying than sitting back, holding a new book or another contract in my hands, knowing that I put my heart, soul, and sweat into making the story the best I could at the time I wrote it. Or knowing that now, after all the years of writing midlist, I can support us if something happens to my husband’s job.
I receive letters from readers who love my work and they always make me smile because I love my career and communication is what it’s all about. I work 60-80 hours a week because it's part of the job, and while I bitch and moan now and then, the truth is: I love it. I love it all. The worst day writing is better than the best day at an office job. Well, maybe not, but hey, every career has it's downsides. ~grins~
But none of this would have happened if I hadn’t organized my priorities, if I hadn’t sat there that dark night, touching my throat where it was raw from the coughing and choking, and thought, “What can I do to make sure I don’t regret my life when my time really does come? I don’t want to regret things undone.” And then, I followed through.
So tell me, what do you want out of life? What are your priorities? Are you working to achieve your goals, or are you just daydreaming about someday? Because friend, sometimes “someday” never comes. You have today—this moment—it’s the only one you can be sure about.
If you don’t take control and make the time to write, then forget about it and go find something that’s more important to you. Because I guarantee you: You’ll never just ‘find’ the time. You have to make the time. You have to carve it out. You have to say, “I’m going to go write now and stop blogging about it, stop talking about it, stop whining about not being published. I’m going to: Make. It. Happen.”
So will this be a pep talk for you? Only if it works. I’ve told this to some people and watched a few of them take it to heart, take up the challenge and throw themselves into the work.
And some—some continue to make excuses for why they can’t write today…why they can’t write this week…why they can’t finish the story they’re on or can’t think of a new story or maybe their dog ate their manuscript or the clothes need washed or gee, time to polish the silverware that’s been sitting around for ten years unused.
Which side of the fence are you on? Are you willing to give up thirty minutes of TV or reading or solitaire a day so you can write? Are you willing to take charge or your life? Or are you going to let your life take charge of you?
Brightest Blessings, and go sit down and write. ~grins~
New York Times bestselling author Yasmine Galenorn writes urban fantasy for Berkley: both the bestselling Otherworld/Sisters of the Moon Series for Berkley and the upcoming Indigo Court urban fantasy series. In the past, she wrote mysteries for Berkley Prime Crime, and nonfiction metaphysical books. Her books have hit the New York Times and USA Today extended bestseller lists numerous times.Yasmine has been in the Craft for over 29 years, is a shamanic witch, and describes her life as a blend of teacups and tattoos. She lives in Bellevue WA with her husband Samwise and their cats.
Bone Magic (Book 7 in the Otherworld Series)
Available Jan 5th from Berkley Publishing
We're the D'Artigo sisters: savvy--and sexy--operatives for the Otherworld Intelligence Agency. But being half-human, half-Fae short-circuits our talents at all the wrong times. My sister Delilah is a two-faced Were who turns into a golden tabby when she's stressed. And Menolly's a vampire who's still trying to get the hang of being undead. As for me? I'm Camille D'Artigo, a wicked-good witch who's learning death magic with my youkai-kitsune husband. Until now, the Moon Mother's pretty much ignored me, but she's about to take me on the Hunt of my life...
Another equinox is here, and life's getting more dangerous for all of us. The past is catching up to our friends, Iris and Chase. Smoky--the dragon of my dreams--is forced to choose between his family and me. To top it off, there's a new demon general in town and we can't locate her. And when the Moon Mother and the Black Beast summon me to Otherworld. I think I'm just going to reunite with my long lost soulmate. But once there, I'm forced to undergo a drastic ritual that will forever change my life, and the lives of those around me.
Etched in Silver by Yasmine Galenorn
In the Anthology Inked by: Marjorie Liu, Yasmine Galenorn, Elaine Wilks, & Karen Chance
Available Jan 5th from Berkley/Jove
Camille D'Artigo, an agent for the Y'Elestrial Intelligence Agency, is on the hunt for a sadistic serial killer. Trouble is: her boss is betting on her failure. She must find the killer by the deadline, or her only choices will be to either resign from her job or succumb to her boss's lecherous intentions. But she didn't count on help from an unexpected source. Trillian, a Svartan--one of the dark, Charming Fae, comes into her life. Everyone warns her against him but as her search for the killer intensifies, Trillian becomes her only ally--and potentially, a man who could break her heart as a magnetic, passionate force draws them together