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A Writer’s Midlife Crisis

In Getting Personal, History EntrepreneurLeave a Comment

There is a lie we tell our children. It goes something like this: “If you set your mind to a goal, you can achieve it. Anything is possible if you work hard enough.” We tell our kids they can be  an astronaut, a ballerina, a basketball player, a physicist, or even the president.

It’s not true. At least it wasn’t for me. I dreamed of becoming a best-selling novelist. Nope. Never gonna happen. There are reasons, some of which are beyond my control and some of which aren’t.

I dreamed of becoming a best-selling novelist. Nope. Never gonna happen.

The ones that aren’t have to do with my peculiar inability to do anything the way I should. I do things my way, which means doing them the hard way, the long way, the wrong way. If my dream had been to make money by writing books people actually wanted to read, I wouldn’t have been me. But because I am me, I wanted to write the books I wanted to write and nothing else. I gravely misjudged the overlapping portion of the Venn diagram for “books I want to write” and “books people actually want to read.”

A Venn diagram that does not intersect at all. Left circle: Books I want to write. Right circle: Books people want to read.

The Lie I Lived With

I grew up with a belief in meritocracy. If you are good at something, you will succeed. It was America in the 1980s, and that’s what all our elementary school teachers told us. And I was good at writing. Like, really good.  I grew up believing this was enough.

It’s not.

Maybe it never was.

What I’ve learned since then is this: talent doesn’t lead to success unless it’s packaged appropriately. Unless it’s channeled the way the powers that be want you to channel it. The bad news? You are not the powers that be and you do not get to decide what is or is not appropriate packaging.

Talent doesn’t lead to success unless it’s packaged appropriately. Unless it’s channeled the way the powers that be want you to channel it.

You can guess, and you might be right.

Or you might be wrong, like me.

The Miner or the Mouse

When it came, the above realization put me into existential crisis mode. My writing output tanked. My self-belief tanked. My willingness to participate in a system that seemed to contradict the meritocracy ideal I was raised on vanished. What made it even worse was that plenty of other people were able to do exactly what I wanted to do. I tried to do the same things they did. I tried to do them for five years over nine books. It never worked.

I felt like I was in that meme where you see two miners, each digging a tunnel. The miner in the bottom tunnel gives up. The miner in the top tunnel doesn’t, and they’re both so close to striking…a vein of incongruously precut diamonds. Go figure.

Two miners are each digging a tunnel. The miner in the bottom tunnel gives up. The miner in the top tunnel doesn’t, and they’re both just a few swings of the pick away from hitting a vein of gold and diamonds.

No, said my husband. You’re not that miner. You’re a mouse in a maze, making the wrong turn over and over and over again, always expecting cheese instead of a bonk in the head from the same dead end.

Something had to give.

The Turning Point

Turns out, that something was my dream.

For my own sanity, I gave it up cold turkey like a smoker tossing her cigarettes on New Year’s Day. No more fiction, no more marketing, no more social media, nothing.

I went back to basics and tried to figure out what it was I used to enjoy before fiction marketing wrecked me. My bookshelves had the answer. They were full of books about queens, princesses, fallen dynasties, and royal jewels.

Just like Carrie Bradshaw, I couldn’t help but wonder…could writing about royalty and tiaras really be a thing? Could this be what I’m supposed to do next?

The Dante DeceptionSo I picked a woman and a tiara and I started researching. Casually at first, then with an intensity I thought I’d lost after The Dante Deception. It became a rabbit hole that I fell down with my heart and my soul. What began as one simple story became three interconnected stories, each of which deserves a book.

I’m probably biting off way more than I can chew. I’ll do the classic Jenni thing. I’ll overthink and overcomplicate and destroy whatever’s good about this idea because of my fear of making a mistake. But I know that tendency is there, so I can guard against it. Personal growth is hard, folks. I’m 41. I’m set in my ways. But for these women, and these stories, I will try to do a better job.

I’ll do the classic Jenni thing. I’ll overthink and overcomplicate and destroy whatever’s good about this idea because of my fear of making a mistake.

Fear Is a Four-Letter Word

I am a shitty marketer. Shitty, shitty, shitty. But I think I was a shitty fiction marketer because, deep down, I knew that what I had written wasn’t what you wanted to read. Which meant marketing to you was a waste of time, money, and effort.

This time, I hope things will be different.

There are already signs that it will.

I put up a new website at girlinthetiara.com. I included a page to showcase the trilogy of books I want to write:

  1. Grand Duchess Hilda of Baden
  2. Grand Duchess Elizaveta Mikhailovna
  3. Princess Augusta of Brunswick

Three covers I mocked up for the proposed trilogy: Hilda of Baden, Elizaveta Mikhailovna, and Augusta of Brunswick

I had nothing but these cover images I’d mocked up, so I designed the page with placeholder lorem ipsum text. I wrote the blurbs right before I clicked publish. Like Indiana Jones, I was making it up as I went.

All I did was put it out into the world, quieter than a whisper, with a secret hope that I was doing the right thing.

Then I heard from someone in Greece who wants to read the Hilda book. And someone who chimed in via Messenger offering to help with information about Lilli (Elizaveta). Already a handful of people are finding the site – and offering encouragement.

My New Dream

I want to tell the kind of stories I wrote about for Tiara Tuesday, but on a bigger scale. Those are the only posts on this site that get comments – and they get lots of amazing comments. People read them. People seem to like them. People write in with more information. Even when they write in to correct my mistakes, they’re nice and helpful about it.

This didn’t happen with fiction. Aside from two or three nice emails, mostly I just heard from people who asked for free books or pointed out my mistakes. Someone even told me my writing was so mistake-ridden it marked me as low-class, as did my first name, both of which meant I should seriously reconsider writing about a royal family like the Romanovs.

Aside from two or three nice emails, mostly I just heard from people who asked for free books or pointed out my mistakes.

I have been conditioned to fear unfamiliar names in my inbox.

I want this project to change that.

They say you need thick skin to be a writer. But what about those of us who don’t have thick skin, haven’t been able to develop it for 40 goddamn years, but still want to do this? Again, talent counts for so little if you are biologically and chemically engineered with tissue paper for skin. This is something I will have to work on until the day I die.

It’s at Least Partly about the Benjamins

The Red RoadDon’t get me wrong. I’d still love for the fiction thing to work out. I think The Red Road would make an amazing indie movie (where’s Greta Gerwig when you need her?). I kind of want to write a movie script to reboot Highlander. I have the next Natalie book all planned, and it involves stealing the most famous necklace in history.

But I have a mortgage and a car payment and student loan bills and car accident bills (yes, I got hit and was in the hospital for 9 days in October 2018 – do yourself a favor and increase your uninsured motorist coverage, like, now).

I can’t put years of time into a novel that nets me $10/month. And those are the only kinds of novels that I seem able to write. There may come a time when I return to fiction. But right now, I literally can’t afford it. I also can’t afford the emotional and spiritual despair that marketing my fiction caused in me.

I Need Your Help

So here’s the plan. I’m going big with my new dream. I’m working on merch, a podcast, a blog, and some social media for The Girl in the Tiara. I’m going to write the three books I talk about there, even though I’m not a trained historian. I am going to have fun with it. I will not let despair enter the equation this time.

I’ll also document the process as best I can here on this website, so you can either watch me fail or high-five me if I pull this off. There’s a lot of stuff I’m learning that I had to find out on my own, and if someone else could benefit from it, why not share?

So here’s what I’m asking you to do:

  1. Go check out the new website at girlinthetiara.com. I like it. It looks pretty.
  2. Sign up for the mailing list on that site so you hear about new, cool stuff, like merch and the podcast, when they’re ready.
  3. Send all your good vibes my way. I need them.
  4. Bookmark my new blog category, History Entrepreneur, here on JenniWiltz.com (or drop that URL into your Feedly) to see how I’m going about all this. I will be documenting everything, from my research quandaries to my freak-outs over technical issues. All my research findings about royal women and their jewels will be on the new tiara site, but all the behind-the-scenes and how-to info will be going up on this site.

Long story short, I want this project to restore my faith in writing. I want to learn how to get out of my own way. I want to have fun again. But most of all, I want to share these amazing stories of royal women and their tiaras with the world.

If you like what you see, drop me a line and let me know. Or just wish me luck! Your friendly words make all the difference.

The Girl in the Tiara: The Sparkle Is Real

Love Royalty and Tiaras?

You might like my other site, The Girl in the Tiara. I created it to write about amazing royal women and their tiaras. It’s like Drunk History meets The Crown.

 

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Jenni

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I write thrillers, romance, historical fiction, tiara posts, and more. Right now, I'm working on a nonfiction trilogy: Grand Duchess Hilda of Baden, Grand Duchess Elizaveta Mikhailovna of Russia, and Princess Augusta of Brunswick.

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