Swoon Author Karole Cozzo: A Different Kind of Hunger
Part of being married with young children involves being home and on the couch on Friday nights in time for prime-time television. And a big part of prime-time Friday night television is Shark Tank, at least in our house it is. As an aspiring writer, there was definitely a part of me that could relate to the fledgling entrepreneurs standing before the moguls. Often teary-eyed or at least shaky-voiced, they pleaded their cases to the sharks, attesting to how much blood, sweat, and tears they’d put into their passions, how hard they’d be willing to work, how they knew they could be a success if just given a chance. (Aspiring writers, you can relate, right?) Something I’ve heard Mark Cuban espouse on more than one occasion is the adage “you’ve got to be hungry.” You have to need to succeed. If you have something to fall back on, a plan B, a financial cushion, will you truly do whatever it takes to make this one grand idea you’re pinning all your hopes and dreams on a success?
I can tell you this much: as part of a family with a mortgage, two car payments, and two kids in daycare (#astronomical #whatamIworkingforagain?), it was hardly the time to be “hungry.” I couldn’t afford to quit my job, pour myself into my manuscripts for eight plus uninterrupted hours, draft my thousandth query letter and craft a one-paragraph synopsis, one-page synopsis, two-page synopsis, first ten pages, etc. etc. etc. for nothing more than the slim hope that one time a door would open far enough for me to stick my foot inside. I doubt I’m different than many aspiring writers, and in most cases, reality trumps daydreams, and we’re forced to put our writing aspirations on the back burner (at least if we want to put food on the table and gas in the car).
And reaching for that back burner, it’s real easy to get burned. When you are eking out every free minute to cram in a thousand words, when you’re mentally plotting on your morning commute, when you’re researching agents during your lunch hours, when you’re giving any and every hard-to-come-by free second to pursuing your dream, it can feel even more heartbreaking when your sacrifice doesn’t pay off. I can remember plenty of instances, rereading the rejection email with a sinking feeling in my stomach, reviewing my Excel spreadsheet and realizing I had in fact heard back from every agent and had no last hope to cling to where I was forced to ask myself, “Why am I bothering?”
And here are some things I concluded in the meantime: I’m being impractical by pursuing this dream. I am wasting precious hours I should be spending on other endeavors sitting in front of a Word document. If I was supposed to do this, I would have found some success by now. It doesn’t matter what my instinct tells me, maybe I’m wrong, maybe I’m not any good at this, maybe I’m… a fool.
I’m not an author. I’m not even a writer. Time to get back to real life. During the ten years between 2005 and 2014, I’d woken myself from the dream and gone back to real life more times than I can count.
And then one day, in the early spring of 2014, I was conversing with my husband about a job opportunity that had arisen for him. While the opportunity challenged him to leave a job where he enjoyed his colleagues and felt like a respected, contributing member of the team, he said: “I don’t know. I just feel I have more to offer. I have the potential to do more, and it feels like a waste if I don’t explore that.” We were talking about the slightly-less-than-fascinating world of corporate accounting, and suddenly, I was in tears.
And it all came pouring out again. This deep-rooted, instinctual belief that I was a writer, I was meant to be a writer. It’s what I was supposed to be doing. Trying to deny that because I had yet to find any success along traditional pathways was not only heartbreaking, but it was wrong. I realized in that moment, my drive to succeed might not be fueled by the type of hunger Mark Cuban referenced on Shark Tank, but another type of hunger exists, the hunger to craft your art and share it with the world, for better or worse. As much as you try, you can’t always stifle it by attending to the more practical needs of day to day life. Some passions, they burn with a flame that cannot be extinguished simply by denying them oxygen.
That night, with my husband’s support, I officially gave myself permission to be a writer. One way or another, we decided, if I felt that strongly about it, we would find a way to share my stories in a manner that brought me satisfaction and joy. We discussed it seriously, we talked about as seriously as any other investment, we talked about if I should in fact quit my job and go all in if it was so very much the essence of me. That night, I stopped fighting my passion and decided I would find a way, because giving it up just wasn’t working.
As luck would have it, as I continued to pursue finding an agent and research self-publication, mere months later I received notification that How to Say I Love You Out Loud had been selected for Swoon Reads’ second list. The daydreamer in me celebrated one of the best days of her life – euphoria, tears, jumping and fist-pumping, and even some champagne. The writer in me, the one lying in wait, fighting for breath, struggling to keep her head up, well, she just smiled serenely, perhaps a bit smugly, and thought, I knew it. I’ve been here all along.
If you’re a writer… if you know you’re a writer, fifty publications, ten publications, one publication, or zero publications… be a writer. Don’t ever feel silly for feeding the hunger.