By Kat Olan
If you were ever one to believe in premonition, then my story is probably for you.
Many times, dreams come to us like a montage in old film reels: vague and disjointed. Yet, on some rare occasions we have dreams so vivid that we can pick out every detail about them. When we wake up, we need to take that deep breath and try to comprehend why the hell they felt so real.
In the summer of 2010, I had a dream:
“The winds were perfect for flying that day. The sky was a bright blue, and vast clouds were strewn as far as the eye could see. The Ricket soared over the crests of white giants. It was the fastest airship ever built, moving at a speed of over a hundred knots. It had a large, red canvas balloon that kept it afloat, and attached to its hull were two sails that resembled dragon wings.” (Skies Above, Chapter 1)
The dream sequence lasted for only a good thirty seconds, but its effect on me lingered minutes after I’d woken up. For some unexplainable reason, I was thoroughly moved. I wrote it down as soon as I could in my dream journal.
Seven years later, that same red canvas balloon is now one of the central symbols of my self-published novel, Skies Above. Call this premonition, destiny, or whatever word you may have for it.
Dreaming is one thing.
Making the dream a reality is another.
My flight as an independent author has never been easy. And to those who are aspiring authors: it will never be. My airship has journeyed a long way, maneuvered through treacherous skies and encountered numerous sky-beasts. If there’s anything I learned, it’s that you need a sheer amount of willpower to brave the storm. However, if you manage to soar past those challenges, you’ll find yourself tougher and more inspired than ever to write.
In this article, I’ll share with you some of the lessons I’ve learned from my self-publishing voyage.
Skies Above has been in the works for seven years. It owns a large part of my heart, mainly because it was a book that grew up with me. The way that I saw the world back when I was thirteen is very different from how I see it now. It’s amazing to reflect on how the manuscript had changed from its first draft to its most current version.
When I started Skies Above in my second year of high school, I wrote it with an end goal in mind: to get it published. I already had visions of how it would look like on the shelves of leading bookstores, I created (poorly-made) marketing materials on Microsoft Paint, and even passed around the first few chapters to my seatmates to get their feedback. I believed everything was perfect back then: the story was original, and characters were relatable. I fell head over heels with the idea of the book.
This was the honeymoon phase. And as all honeymoons come to an end, the butterflies began to disappear. The romantic music faded out. I was forced to take off my rose-colored lenses and examine my situation with objectivity. Was I really going to do this? I was faced with the reality of financing my dream, the publishing process, and marketing. Would I gamble real time and actual money to get this project afloat? What were my chances of success?
That’s when I found myself in the storm.
SIX YEARS IN THE STORM
“Graying clouds gathered under the dirigible with terrible speed. Black and abyssal they became, streaming down into a spiraling pit. A maelstrom! The aeronaut ran back to the helm to turn the airship around, but raging winds sent it spinning into the pit. The fellies of the helm whirled in a vicious roulette.” (Skies Above, Chapter 1)
I continued writing Skies Above even as I entered college. By that time, the book had gone through two major revisions. At one point, I was half-way through the book and decided scrap it altogether. I killed off characters and deleted chapters. I felt as if the book had been going in circles. It was fruitless. Worthless. A bad fan-fiction.
The perfectionist within me never thought it was enough. So I learned how to perfect my craft. I visited the university library to search for books on writing fiction. I Googled articles about sci-fi and fantasy. I wrote paragraphs. Scrapped them. Wrote again. I needed to get the book published now. NOW!!
Then, one day, I just got tired. I was frustrated with myself, how slow I was, and that no words were coming out on the page. I had a dream with a deadline, but was I ever going to reach it? I was equally as tired with my workload at university (I had 27 units). I told myself that it was probably time to put Skies Above aside to focus on my academics. So I did for a while. That was the best choice that I had made ever since I started writing the book.
Maybe one would ask: “How was it the best choice? You’ve been working on your book for years. Why would you suddenly put it away?”
I was trapped in a storm of emotions and frustrations. If I hadn’t stepped back and placed my obsession with perfection aside, I wouldn’t have gotten a clear view of where I was.
There I stood, with an entire manuscript done! It wasn’t perfect, sure, but it had a beginning, middle and end. Why did I belittle myself so? This was something many people couldn’t do—follow through on my promise of getting something finished. I deserved a rest.
So I gave myself some breathing space. I focused on school during the day. In university, I learned a great many things about human nature, politics, philosophy, the media. I met people with different ideologies and walks of life. I realized that not everything was black and white. It was in university too, that I experienced a whole spectrum of emotions: everything from happiness to sadness, anger to love. It expanded by worldview and it greatly helped me in giving my manuscript a soul.
If I hadn’t taken the time to absorb everything that I learned in college—had I been so obsessed with getting the book published—then Skies Above wouldn’t have been as it is today. I think that’s the problem for many of us. We’re so obsessed with getting things done fast, that we forget the importance of them being done right. We forget to take time to rest, reflect and get back at our craft with a fresh set of eyes.
In my case, I got back to Skies Above with more experience in life. I was able to draw out insights about life that I never had before. I was able to understand people and events with a certain lens of wisdom. With wisdom and experience, a writer is able to empathize with both their characters and readers because they’ve all shared in an experience.
So I edited the book again, taking into consideration everything that I’d been through. The chapters began to make more sense. The themes became more mature. The characters became something better than perfect—human. After all that time of failing, things were falling into place. Finally, there came a time when I had a manuscript I that I was comfortable to release to the public.
Suddenly, I was stuck again. Now, I felt myself at the edge of a cliff, staring down into a void. Should I jump, it would be the point of no return. I would have to to see this through until I felt a physical copy of the book in my hands. The voices, too, were louder than ever. What if no one will like it? You’re not good enough! It’ll all be a waste of time and money! I had the choice to either stay where I was or take that leap of faith.
So I jumped.
I searched for an editor online, and a self-publishing company. My integrated marketing communications background allowed me to quickly shift from author to seller. I set up my own Facebook page. It took another year for the final edits and publishing to take place. I burnt a hole in my wallet with all the expenses. The worst part was, I didn’t know if this was going to be a success. But I kept on going. If the winds weren’t blowing in my favor, I would sail against them. I did everything I could in my power to make my dream a reality. I just needed to have some degree of trust with God that everything would turn out alright.
ALL STORMS COME TO PASS
Nothing was more fulfilling than finally opening a balikbayan box filled with a hundred copies of Skies Above. Last May 27, 2017, I had the official book launch. A month later, copies were shipped to the US and Canada. To think: all this started out with the dream of a red canvas balloon, but now it is in homes around the world! And we’re only getting started.
Here I am, speaking to you, telling you that you can do it, too. I won’t sugarcoat it: the journey will be hell. You’ll encounter a lot of doubts, and it’s inevitable you’ll gamble many resources to get where you want to be. I think important part is to keep at it, no matter what’s thrown at you. Have an insensible amount of optimism, but be ready to brave bad weather. In the end, all storms come to pass.
Kat Olan is the author of Skies Above, a self-published novel.