It’s called the slush pile in the book trade. And fifteen years ago when I wrote my first manuscript, that’s where my query letters to literary agents went to die. They tell you not to take the rejections personally, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t. As a result, I moved on to other projects and opportunities; but there was always this little voice nagging at me. Then one day a louder voice was in my ear, the voice of a friend who knew the publishing world.
“Give it another shot,” she urged.
My instinct was to laugh her off: I’d been there…done that. But before I knew it, I was back at the keyboard. It would have been easy to dismiss her challenge, but now that I’m a published author, now that Bodies on the Potomac is out there in the public domain being read by friends and family and strangers alike, I realize that listening to a respected friend’s advice might be the catalyst others can use to break through.
As best I can figure it out, here are four ways to assure yourself that you heed good advice, reliable counsel that could propel you to a lifetime achievement.
1. Listen to those you admire.
There’s a difference between a buddy and an accomplished friend with her thumb on the pulse of business and life. Buddies have a tendency to dismiss strong ideas as ‘pie in sky’, an unachievable dream. Accomplished friends, on the other hand, believe in the bootstrap strategy, an approach that will serve you well. After all, very few good things happen without a rasher of good old fashion blood, sweat, and tears.
2. Co-dream and set a plan.
The more excitement in your gut, the better the chances of overcoming the hurdles that are inevitable obstacles to breaking through. But the idea of building a manuscript or a software company or an advisory firm is foreign and daunting, so it’s wise to select carefully when sharing your dream. It’s too risky, some will say to you; you need money others will cry. Truth is, they might be right, but not right for you. Find someone who will dream with you and also set a plan. You’ll have friends that are dreamers and friends that are realists, but you need to identify the ones that are both and pull them into your process. You already know it’s a gamble and that you might fail. But who needs to be reminded? So choose your mentor wisely and do not waver, because building that dream will be a little like shoveling pea gravel— after hours of backbreaking work, you’ll look down and swear you’ve accomplished nothing, when the reality is just the opposite. What then? Tap that mentor, have a chat, and the energy will flow again.
3. Don’t be overly modest.
Despite your friend’s original encouragement to follow your dream, it’s easy to look in the mirror and dismiss your own talents. Guard against believing that your friend’s advice was simply a polite compliment. Trust the words, trust the sentiment, and use it all, because it’s fuel for the climb.
4. Keep your friend in the loop.
If she encouraged you at the outset, then she believes in you, wants to follow your progress, to witness your ascent up the mountain. And the truth is that as you strive for various benchmarks, getting supportive feedback is a major source of energy and confidence, both of which will need repeated replenishing during the journey. Some days will be better than others, so feeding off support from a good friend can put your mind right again. But mostly it’s up to you…one bite, one step, one hour, one day at a time.
Writing is a solitary endeavor, yet Bodies on the Potomac was not produced in a vacuum. Your dream won’t be either, no matter what it is. So listen to your friend, keep her up to date, but above all move things along each and every day.
And never forget, there’s another friend, one you’re likely familiar with: the flutter in your belly. Pay attention. It just might fuel your breakthrough.
Related: Why People Don't Follow Their Dreams