Seven years ago, at age twenty-seven, I became possessed with the idea that I wanted to write and publish my first book. To save a cash, I moved in the downstairs of my parents’ home, while I focused on my book. A year later, I had a manuscript of experimental, autobiographical comedic nonfiction.
Twenty-two rejections later, living in the same room I grew up in as a teenager, I was in a bona-fide dip. And, I decided this memoir-writing thing was not a dip I wanted to push through. If I wanted to continue to pay rent and buy groceries (and eventually move out of my parents’ place), I would need to be more flexible about how I interfaced my main set of skills (writing and editing nonfiction) with market realities. I hit “STOP” on the memoir writing. I began seeking out every gig I could get. Editing gigs. Ghostwriting gigs. Copywriting gigs. I helped people self-publish their books. I wrote book proposals for aspiring authors. Anything that had $$$ attached to it, and somehow involved words, I would do it.
A few years later, my money situation had improved a great deal. I was no longer going deeper and deeper into debt to cover my living expenses while I “went for my dreams” (as the motivational books put it), hoping some editor at a publishing house would bestow upon me a windfall advance. But once the money started to flow and I was on financially firm footing, I very quickly began asking myself: Is this how I want to spend the rest of my life?
I always knew that my great passion was writing books. Not editing other people’s books, not writing book proposals for other people’s books or marketing them. But writing my own. That’s what I was originally doing in my “starving memoirist” phase.
Well, with money handled, I now had the flexibility to write on the side, exploring this passion, yet without having to do it in a “starving artist” way. I wrote a proposal for what became my first published book, The Power of Eye Contact. Now, this was not “literature,” as I was attempting to write earlier, but neither was it pandering to some lowest-common-denominator market—it’s a substantive book. I received a $20,000 advance. That certainly wasn’t enough to quit my day job of freelancing, but it at least contributed to my income and allowed me to explore even more this passion on the side.
However, in 2010, I got the idea that I wanted my passion—book writing—to be my main income. I came up with the idea for my upcoming book, The Education of Millionaires, wrote the proposal for it, networked my way to a fantastic literary agent, and received a six-figure offer from Penguin. Now in 2011, I have come full circle: I have given up my day job completely, and have turned my attention entirely to book writing. Again, I’m not attempting to write artistic literature anymore, but I am making a living writing books which are substantive and meaningful.
That is enough for me.
So here’s the point. If you hit a dead end and need to take a step back to regroup, that doesn’t mean you need to abandon you entire dreams forever.
If I could give you one piece of advice it would be…
If your dream isn’t working, don’t be ashamed to abandon one part of your dream, then regroup, retool, try a different angle—and come back swinging.
You may find your real dream is actually much different—and much bigger—than you ever could have dreamed.
Michael Ellsberg is the author of The Education of Millionaires: It’s Not What You Think, and It’s Not Too Late, which is launching from Penguin/Portfolio in September. It’s a bootstrapper’s guide to investing in your own human capital at any age. Michael sends manifestos, recommendations, tips, and other exclusive content to his private email list, which you can join at www.ellsberg.com. Connect with him on Twitter @MichaelEllsberg and on Facebook.