A Lesson in Following Your Arrow: The Myth of Overnight Success
Sunday night, my Twitter exploded with tweets like “WHO IS THIS KACEY GIRL?!” And honestly, I was kind of appalled because I thought I’d already told you guys about her and realized I’d totally failed. Sorry. So if you’re still not in the loop: Everyone meet Kacey! Kacey this is everyone.
The first time I saw Kacey was in 2012 at a big radio event in Nashville. I was invited to a free show where big names like Little Big Town, Lady Antebellum, Luke Bryan, etc would play for industry people. Along with those big names there were a couple artists who no one had ever heard of. One of those lovely people was Kacey Musgraves. Honestly, I didn’t even pay attention to her introduction. I was taking notes, wondering when George Strait was going to take the stage.
She trotted on stage in this cute, beautiful dress and sang “Merry Go ‘Round.” The opening line, “If you ain’t got two kids by twenty-one, you’re probably gonna die alone,” shut the entire Ryman auditorium up, which is difficult to do because radio people are super chatty. By the first chorus, people were cheering! They were going NUTS! By the end of the song, we were all on our feet. The only other standing ovation that day? Went to George Strait.
To this day, it is hands-down my FAVORITE memory of working in the music industry. I had tears in my eyes, goose bumps on my arms. This girl could write, she could sing, and wait–WHAT THE HECK WAS HER NAME?! Frantically, everyone tried to figure it out since no one had been paying attention. Was it Kelsey? Kenzie? Muscrat? OH MY GOD, DID NO ONE WRITE THIS DOWN?!
By that evening, I’d tracked her down and was forcing all my friends to listen to this low quality recording of her performance from that day. In fact, the video I’m going to post (which has been viewed 5,000,000+ times) was made by Kacey herself, BEFORE her Ryman debut. She made it in her kitchen on her laptop.
And this past Sunday, you all saw her on the Grammy’s, telling it like it is with “Follow Your Arrow.” “So make lots of noise and kiss lots of boys, or kiss lots of girls if that’s something you’re into!” (It’s her latest, most in your face single and I’ve YET to hear country radio stations around here play it–So shame on you, country radio. Wise up! </rant>).
Back to my point, because I have one. Everyone thought Kacey was some overnight success. Like she just woke up a few months earlier and started writing and got herself a record deal. As if, she just played the first song she ever wrote for a label and they were like, “Genius! Someone sign this girl!” But that’s not how it happened. Yes, she DID have a label and a creative team to work with a year prior to “Merry Go Round.” But she had been in development for several years, tuning her writing, her sound–she’d even put out a few self-releases when she was younger, but they never had the kind of success she’s having now. She played festivals, fairs, shows, etc (<–please do yourself a favor and click that link. Trust me, you need the laugh). She got better and better and better. She aligned herself with right people, whose vision aligned with her own. And when she finally had that awesome sucker-punch of a single, she debuted it at one of Nashville’s biggest events and the industry went wild over of it.
So here’s the thing, the overnight success story is a freaking myth. It doesn’t happen. Maybe you got DISCOVERED one night, but all the work that goes into that night can take YEARS. You need time to develop your voice, to realize what you really want to say and what you are capable of saying. I know all you writers want to be published in one way or another, like, ASAP. And maybe the manuscript you’re working on, that you love and stressed over, isn’t getting any bites. Maybe agents are saying no to the query. Heck, maybe you have an agent and editors are saying no to the pitch.
If you get to that point, you can either be REALLY upset about it and pitch a fit. Or you can look at it as an opportunity. Make your next book even better, make it so strong that THAT’S the book you want to debut with anyway. Keep writing, keep trying, keep working on your voice until you’ve got something that will make the whole room go silent and then cheer. You’re going to look back and be so glad you didn’t debut with that one book, because your writing is so much stronger and this new book is so much better.
Treasure this time. Use it to your advantage. Find a CP. A beta reader. Lots of beta readers. Make that surprised face when people give you feedback! Write things that make you uncomfortable. Write things that you’ve never written about before. Take risks. Commit to what you’re saying. It’s worth it. If you truly love to write–love to tell a good story–it’s worth it. You can do it (seriously, you can). You can follow your arrow wherever it points and come outta the gate with your VERY best.