Trailblazers forge their own path. Lead the way. They hatchet markings into trees, put up flags, warn of dangerous precipices and keep you on track. Trailblazers stand out in our minds as those who are brave, entrepreneurial, willing to take risks. A writer, in essence, isn’t that different. A writer must embark on a journey. The path is unknown, the destination barely a vague idea, brought on by a dream or a spark while watching people squabble at the farmer’s market. Just as a trailblazer must continue moving through the thicket, even when she wants nothing more than a fully cooked meal and a comfortable bed to sleep in, a writer must persevere in the midst of doubt, trailblazing through her story. Trailblazers don’t always see the forest for the trees, just as writers can’t see their novel while they’re in the middle of writing that dreaded scene.
As a writer I know what you’re thinking. If only it were as easy as pulling on our socks, tying up our shoelaces, grabbing our backpack and forging ahead. If only we could follow signposts and emerge at the end of the trail, flushed, our heart racing, full of accomplishment…wait…isn’t that what writing ‘the end’ feels like?
Luckily, we do have markings to follow. Trailblazer authors help fledgling authors catch flight, if only in the realm of their imagination and fancy. With their guidance they help us think, for just one moment, that the only thing that matters is placing one word after another, just like you do when you’re hiking.
While I was writing my first novel there were three trailblazers that made the journey bearable. Whenever I stumbled and felt like retreating, I’d pull up their stories, and I continued on.
1 ) Khaled Hosseini, author of The Kite Runner.
Did you know initially The Kite Runner wasn’t the incredible success we know it to be? Hosseini had a tough time finding an agent, receiving some thirty rejections. The feedback was that the story was passé. That it didn’t have mainstream appeal. It took fifteen months from first publishing for his audience to reach a tipping point. His success was built one reader at a time, through people who connected to his book.
2) Jess Walter, author of Beautiful Ruins.
How can you not laugh when you read Jess Walter’s interview in The Daily Beast (http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/02/20/jess-walter-how-i-write.html)? There are so many great nuggets on his writing life in there. What I loved most was his advice to aspiring authors:
“Be patient. Be bold. Be humble. Be confident. Don’t give in to the speed and surface banality of the culture. Don’t give in to jealousy, commerce, or fear. Do charity work, or coach kids, or be a Big Brother or Sister, or something. Whatever it takes to get out of your own head and avoid authorial narcissism. And whatever you do, don’t ever take advice from authors.”
3) Barbara Kingsolver, author of The Poisonwood Bible.
I’ve always admired Barbara Kingsolver. Before I ever thought I would write a novel, I would rush with excitement to buy each of her new books. What I admire most is her spirit of writing what you truly believe in, to stay off the beaten path and to give it your all. On her website is a page for writers. It’s filled with advice and inspiration, and here’s my favorite: “A career is built one paragraph at a time. I wrote six books and a blue-million articles before anything of mine hit the bestseller lists. I don’t know any shortcuts. But if you’re really a writer, that’s no problem, because you’d rather be writing than anything else.”
Trailblazing writers are all around us, no matter what type of novel you are writing. They inspire and guide us, helping us follow our own path: of character arcs, dialogue enunciations and plot twists and turns. They remind us that we’re not the only ones that have taken this journey before. So forge your own path. Keep writing until you reach the end, gloriously energized and satisfied. Then plop yourself down on a mossy rock to take in the view. Look back on the trail you’ve taken. Most of the difficult parts will be forever forgotten. All you’ll have is your sense of self—and a finished novel.