It seems every artist I know has a story about the Big Bad Horrible Thing that happened to them on their road to success. They hit a point where everything sucked but it was worth it because in the end, they got a Huge Publishing Deal or something. These stories help me because I haven’t yet “broken out” like I want to, so I figure my trials are just part of my Big Bad Horrible Thing. They always have been.
But to be fair, my life has been pretty comfortable. I’m an American of Irish/German descent, born into a blue-collar family west of the Rockies. I have lived abroad, I’ve known people rich and poor, and I’ve known plenty of people who have endured (still do, and still will) much harder things than I have. My trials, relative to those of people I know, aren’t that bad.
At the same time, I’ve met plenty of people who are going through trials I’ve already experienced. When those trials hit me, the worst part was not knowing what to do about them. Hopefully the story I’m going to tell you will help you get some ideas about how to work through your own trials. I did have a Big Bad Horrible Thing happen, though it was less of an economic thing and more of a pride thing. That’s probably the hardest part to admit.
I’ve told parts of this story before, but Keep On Rolling will get into the details and the anecdotes of my Big Bad Horrible Thing. I expect that mostly young people, teenagers especially, will gain something from this. I’m curious what the response will be.
For now, our story begins about 25 years ago, when I started the third grade. That was when I discovered my love of writing stories, and knew that I wanted to be an author.
As the years rolled on, I clacked away at the keyboard on our family computer, first writing fanfics of Power Rangers and Transformers. Later I would make up my own stories, illustrating them with my friends, and dreaming of a future where I raked in piles of money from my wildly popular novels.
As high school ended and I pushed into my adult years, I made career choices with low levels of commitment–no college degree, no high ceiling, no path that would be hard to abandon. I was waiting for my big break as a writer. It was always just around the corner! Because of course it was. I read, I wrote, I lathered, rinsed, repeated.
Still the years crawled by. My teens gave way to my early twenties, then my mid-twenties. Rejections piled up. I kind of didn’t understand it. I read plenty of published works that were worse than my own stuff, right? I mean, I was SO much better than those authors, why couldn’t anyone see that?
Pro tip, that’s kind of a garbage attitude to have about your craft, whatever it is. An artist should be their own greatest critic. I was my own greatest cheerleader. That’s a blueprint for failure.
Still, I got better at it. I learned how to edit, and landed an agent. Even though I had dropped out of college (twice), my success was at hand! All of my lackluster career decisions were justified! Suddenly it wasn’t such a big deal that I had been a delivery driver, a telemarketer, a bookstore worker, and a print shop manager. I was going to get published!
Wrong. Two years came and went, with my agent working tirelessly on three manuscripts of mine, only for us to part ways when she just couldn’t find a home for my work. In 2013, I was back to the beginning.
This would have been hard enough to bear if I hadn’t also just been fired from my job.
Which was even harder to bear two weeks after my oldest son was born.
On the night I lost my job, I came home, broke the news to my wife, and allowed myself a solid hour of self-pity before reaching out to a friend who had been in this same position. He gave me some comfort, but not a ton of direction, and I went to sleep that night beating myself up over what had happened.
I come from a philosophically conservative background. Rugged individualism, self-reliance, personal responsibility, all that. Throughout my life I had told myself that the world didn’t owe me anything, that I reaped what I sowed, and that I would live or die by merit.
I believed those things in part because I thought I was too good, or too clever, or too special to find myself on the losing side of them. Maybe I had been complimented too often in my youth, and wasn’t self-critical enough as a result. I bit down too hard on the dream of artistic success, despite the very real probability that I wouldn’t be commercially viable for a long time.
Losing my job wasn’t the Big Bad Horrible Thing; finding out that I had gambled my time and my efforts, only to scratch when it counted…that was the Big Bad Horrible Thing. And it suuuuuuuuucked.
There wasn’t much time to wallow in self-pity about it, either. With an eclectic skill set and work history, I couldn’t expect to easily pay the bills anytime soon, unless I made a big, big change. So I decided to become a trucker. And that is where the adventure really begins.
This story will continue next week.