Following Your Artistic Passion...and When To Give Up The Dream

by Kayla Perrin

Getting that dream publishing contract. Finally signing with a record label. Landing a leading role in a major motion picture. When it comes to the arts, accomplishing any of these things is considered the Holy Grail. Making a living in the arts is often seen as a completely unrealistic expectation, but that doesn't stop people from hoping...and dreaming.

Despite all the stories about the "starving artist", people still dare to hope and dream. If you're like me, and you can't imagine not creating art in the particular way you enjoy expressing it, then you're likely to ignore all the naysayers and try to make your dream a reality.

But when do you know when to call it quits? How long should you pursue your career in the arts--perhaps forgoing a "real" job--before you say enough is enough?

Thankfully, on a personal level, I don't have to wonder. I have made my dream of becoming a published novelist a reality. Sure, the dreaming doesn't stop...I'd love to have a movie or TV series made of my work; I'd love to sell more books; I'd love to be a New York Times bestselling author with the success of Nora Roberts. But I'm absolutely grateful to be able to make a living doing what I love. I'm one of those people who knew from the time I was a young child that I wanted to be a writer. I did everything creative--writing, acting, music, drawing. But my first love was always telling stories. So to be able to write and make a living doing it, I know that I'm one of the lucky ones.

And that's where the arts gets tricky. So often, people may have great talent--but luck plays a huge role in artistic careers. Some people get the kind of exposure that others never get. Some first-time authors get huge contracts right out of the gate, while others may toil away for 20 years and never see that kind of cash. I find that people either have one of two impressions--that you're either incredibly wealthy once you get that elusive publishing contract or role in a movie, or that you will never make a decent living. And both of these thoughts often impact people in terms of whether or not they choose to pursue a career in the arts. For example, some people may hope to become an actor not necessarily because they love the art of acting, but because they see that the paycheck the successful actors get is so huge. The same goes for music. And it definitely goes for writing novels as well.

In fact, it can be argued that where music, visual arts, dance, and movies are concerned, people will be more likely to acknowledge that they don't have what it takes to succeed. But writing... ah, writing. We can all do it, can't we? And if we can all do it--and you also enjoy telling stories--then doesn't it stand to reason that anyone can write a book?

I'll admit, that very question caused me to feel somewhat frustrated in the last few months because I was getting so many e-mails from aspiring writers hoping for some tidbits of advice from me that would help them land a publishing contract. When I was starting out, I researched the market extensively. I wasn't able to e-mail authors for advice, but perhaps I would have. Though the truth is, there is no advice anyone can give you that will help you sell. People can give advice about publishers, conferences, contests. But no one can tell you the "magic" answer that will lead to you selling a book.

Ultimately, I knew in my heart that I had what it took to become a writer. And it was that belief that fueled my research, to learn more about the market and who was buying and where best I might make a sale. I had vowed to never give up until I succeeded. But some of the people e-mailing me and sending me snippets of their work had me questioning my own philosophy: to never give up on your dream. Suddenly, I was beginning to think that a lot of people weren't necessarily seeing their own talent for writing and storytelling as the catalyst for their desire to be published, but rather a sense that anyone can write a book. I even had a friend of mine say, "You're so successful with writing books and having so much fun, I think I should try to write books too."

Now, this is exactly the kind of thing that irks me. Some people just don't get what it really takes to be an artist. And it's not about the life you get to live when you get that publishing contract, or that record deal--it's about the life you would live if you couldn't make your living as an artist. For me, it's simple and it always was. Even if I never got a dime for my words, I would still be writing stories. Characters fill my head. I've been writing since I could hold a pencil, and not getting a publishing contract wouldn't stop that. But for the person who isn't really an artist and is simply hoping for what they might see as an "easy" career, they won't be scribbling stories or drawing pictures if they're not getting paid for it. Their life is not fueled by their art.

So, back to my question: when do you know that you should call it quits? I was certain about this at one point fairly recently. That, for example, if you had spent 10 years trying to get published without success, perhaps you should give it up. And then I went to Heather Graham's WRITERS FOR NEW ORLEANS conference and heard Joe Konrath speak.

Now, Joe has been a friend of mine for years, but I never knew his path to publishing in detail. It took him over 10 years and lots of heartbreaks before he got his first publishing deal. When I heard him talk about how he would finish one book, send it out, get great feedback from agents, and still not sell, I thought, "Wow, how does someone in that situation not give up?" It had to have been excruciatingly tough for him at times. Perhaps 99 other people would have given up were they in his shoes. But not Joe.

And it became clear to me that he didn't give up for the same reason that I know I would still be scribbling a story even if I wasn't selling it. He knew. He knew that he had what it took to become a published writer. Despite the odds, despite his own turbulent road to publication, he knew. And here is the ultimate blessing that comes from following your passion--at least in Joe's case. They say follow your passion and the money will follow...well, that definitely is true. All those books that Joe wrote that never sold to a major publisher, he is now selling directly to Kindle. Because of the surging popularity of e-books, Joe is now making so much money with his Kindle sales that he says he won't sell another book to a New York publisher. He is finally reaping the rewards for his patience and diligence in a way he never would have conceptualized when those very books were being rejected over and over again. It is certainly the happy ending we all would wish for.

So who am I--or who is anyone else--to keep you from realizing your dream? If you believe in your heart...know it in your soul... that you were meant to be an artist, and if you have the patience and diligence required to see your dream become a reality, then don't let anyone stop you. Don't let the years discourage you. Do what you can to better yourself and your craft, and never give up.

Because dreams do come true. If you work at them.

Until next time, keep believing!



  1. Terrific post Kayla - I completely agree with you - you have to have that inner spark/voice that keeps telling you to keep going - that sets the true writers apart from those who think they can dash off a novel over a weekend. We all know it takes sweat, tears and yes - blood to get that done! ;)

  2. Absolutely, Kayla. Persistence, and discipline - discipline not only to improve your craft, but also in learning about the field you hope to work in. It seems to me that a whole lot of people want the thrill of being "published," rather than wanting to be writers. There is actually a difference, IMHO.

  3. Yes, Vanessa...there is definitely a difference. Writers want to write...need to write. Others simply want the "glory." But damn, there are other businesses a lot easier to break into for simply the glory. People see successes--and especially if they're people they know--they may erroneously believe it was easy to get to where they are. They're not seeing the blood, sweat, and tears--as Joanna said!

  4. GREAT post, Kayla. I definitely went through a period in my creative life where all I wanted to do was warn young people to ignore the 'follow your dream' advice and to get a job that would help them get groceries.

    But as you mention - I can't stop! I'm still writing. I can't help myself. That's what we all do.

    The people who assume that dashing off a book is easy soon discover otherwise. And if there really is a writer behind that initial urge, they will start on the long road to refining their craft - because they've got stories in there.

  5. Julia, I have always been the person to say "follow your dreams." Even at my RWA Chapter, most of the people who had joined while I was there said they did so because they met me and I inspired them. Lately, I was starting to get jaded, noticing that people feel it's "easy" and they're not necessarily keen on the craft, just the glory. Not all, of course--I read some people's works that held great promise.

    Ultimately, I can't change who I am, and I am a firm believer in following your dream...whatever that may be. Just be prepared for the hard work, and to try to better your craft along the way!


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