I’m thrilled to introduce soon-to-be debut author Sonali Dev! Today, we’ll hear Sonali’s insightfully candid tale on how doubt and fear propelled her toward her dream of publication.
Great to have you here, Sonali!
Thank you so much, Jen, for having me. At my very first Local RWA meeting Tracey Devlyn introduced me to RU and I’ve been hooked ever since. So, it really means a lot to be here.
I’m going to go ahead and start with an admission that might certify me as crazy. Last month I accepted my first book deal and the most phenomenal thing about that for me has been how much easier it suddenly is to open my email. Seriously. In the two years that it took me to sell my book, the simple act of clicking on the Inbox had pitched itself so painfully between the axe of rejection and the chopping block of hope that when the final email from my editor arrived, I found myself unable to make that single click. My dear husband had to ride in on his white horse and do the deed and announce those words I’d been dying to hear: ‘He wants to know when he can call you.’
High drama, I know. But if you’re blasting out those queries, those partials, those fulls and then crossing every digit in anticipation, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Unfortunately, I have no advice on how to stave off the terror of opening those responses, but I can share how I survived hitting bottom and hovering in its vicinity through two years of submissions. I did it by making a concerted effort to stay inspired. I hunted inspiration with the same zeal I employed in smashing out those words and chiseling down that prose. So, in no particular order, here are the top five moments of inspiration that propped me up and kicked my butt over that first, most daunting bump.
I’ll have what Hanna’s having.
For the entire first year of sending out queries all I heard was crickets. But in the span of that year I became part of the Aphrodites, a wonderful group of writers who like me were consumed by the dream. When we first banded together, Hanna Martine, our only published member, in an attempt to rally our sagging spirits shared with us the experience of having belonged to another group of aspiring writers five years ago. They had supported each other and cheered each other on and now every one of them was published. It was like someone had thrown me a line of reality as I thrashed about in the waves of make-believe. Other people’s successes make our dreams real, seek them out and gulp down their Kool-Aid like manna from heaven.
At my first RWA National conference in New York, I made the mother of all newbie errors. I made a pitch appointment with the wrong editor. This editor took only category length romances, and naturally since I don’t write those I did not get a request. I slunk into a workshop heartbroken at my colossal stupidity. It happened to be Michael Hague’s brilliant Story Structure workshop. Slumped in my chair listening to him talk about taking protagonists from living in their identity to blossoming into their essence, I was struck full force by a challenge he tossed out. ‘Go out today and do something you would never normally do,’ he told us. ‘There is great power in breaking out of our identities.’ What I did with his advice still makes me cringe a little. I stalked an editor and ‘ran into her’ and then pitched my book and got a full request. Now, I will say here that I was extremely polite and sensitive and she was delightful, not to mention, unharmed. The request did not win me a sale, but what it did do was teach me that I had some control, a little power. That just because I lost one chance to stupidity, didn’t mean I couldn’t get a second chance, and a third and a fourth, and that, really, I had to make that happen myself.
Look at me, Jason, I suck.
After I had edited my manuscript a few thousand times and the saga of rejections continued, I was ready to beg passing strangers for advice on how to make it better. That’s when I read an interview with Jason Reitman, the Oscar nominated director of Juno. When asked what he watched for inspiration, he responded (and I paraphrase) that while the great masters of filmmaking did inspire him, it was watching crappy films that really kept him going. His reasoning was that if that kind of shit made it, surely he could do better. It was the most freeing thing I’d ever read. If everyone waited for their work to reach genius levels nothing would ever get made or published.
The first step is to take a step, the levels it reaches, is a problem for tomorrow not today. I learned that unless I had the courage to suck, I had no chance at success.
You brought me hope, Hope.
Despite all my inspiration hunting, there was one brief, dark interlude when the journey wearied me so much I actually lost my will to write. The idea of my writing amounting to something became so laced with the world’s response to it that I needed a breather. It was the perfect time to attended Lady Jane’s Salon, where romance writers read from their work. It’s always a blast to watch these seemingly staid women read the sexy, funny scenes they’ve crafted. Hope Tarr read this wonderful scene from her historical, Temptation, where the gruff, cynical (not to mention hot) hero gifts the heroine a puppy. It was a scene aching with the magical promise of coming love. And it made me want to run home and type out some magic of my own. It reminded me that there is a reason I tell these stories, it’s because I love them, and nothing was more inspiring than experiencing first hand that very thing I was trying to weave into my own stories.
Tell me you love me. Again.
While hearing authors read their work is one of my favorite things to do, reading for an audience turns me into blob of nerveless jelly sucking on her inhaler. But reading aloud is part of being a writer and it was a bump I had to overcome. So I gathered my guts and read aloud at my local RWA chapter’s critique night. And I experienced something I will always carry with me – complete absorbed silence. It was the most beautiful sound in the world. In a business where so much of the noise is about what stinks about your work (and I’m told some reviews need battle grade armor) the joy of someone loving it balances out the deepest gashes.
By seeking to publish our work we take a personal joy and turn it into an ego-driven popularity contest. And to succeed at it we must consciously keep our writing-related egos healthy. Every little thing that strokes it keeps us in the game and propels us forward. Every kind word anyone has ever said about my writing, every perfect score on a contest, that’s what quelled the brutal self-doubt I know plagues us all and that above all else inspired me to stick with my dream.
So, go on, be an inspiration-huntress. It is the spoils of your hunt that will raise you up to where you can grab your dream.
How do you pull yourself up by the bootstraps and keep going?
Loucinda McGary joins us on Friday, March 8th for another installation of Novel Spots.
Bio: Sonali Dev’s earliest attempts at writing involved being caught writing couplets about her first grade math textbook instead of doing her homework. It took her years to figure out that wanting to write down every thought that popped into her head probably meant she was a writer. Five years in architecture school with professors yelling “sketches not words” finally got the point across and she embraced her mad love for words. A love she combines with her love for Bollywood films to conjure up stories that make a crazy tangle with her life as wannabe supermom, domestic goddess, and disgruntled corporate minion. Sonali lives in the Chicago suburbs with her very patient and often amused husband and two children who demand both patience and humor, and of course her characters who can’t stop doing Bollywood dances inside her head.
- Weekly Lecture Schedule: March 4 – March 8, 2013
- Sonali Dev: Why Backstory is the Spine of Your Story And How to Use it to Make Your Story Stand Tall
- The Bollywood Revolution – South Asian Authors and Romance
- Weekly Lecture Schedule for Monday, June 16 – Friday, June 20, 2014
- The Rhythm of Language with Cari Quinn