An inauspicious anniversary recently passed; it’s been one full year since I signed a contract with a literary agent to represent my novel.
The day marked twelve months of suspense, frustration, and heartbreak at rejection emails worded with such tact and positivity that it sounded like those editors should have just bought the frigging thing. You wanted to be best friends with my main character and you laughed out loud the whole way through? Well then please take it off my hands already!
It’s also been a year of learning how the publishing industry works and how my agent does her job, and a year of revising, killing (15,000 words have been exorcised from that first ‘finished’ draft so far), resurrecting, sweating, swearing, hoping, fantasizing and accepting ‘no’ for an answer. So be it. At 49, I’m under no illusions about being an ingenue.
I’m a late-blooming sort anyway; didn’t finish college till 25, for reasons including time management fails and full-time jobs off-campus. Despite being engaged before, and close enough to the altar to have a dress ordered, I didn’t get married until 34. Concomitantly, parenthood arrived so late as to require medical intervention, and I’m happy to report we don’t have quadruplets.
Writing was a passion and a plan for the far-off future, a dream hatched by a third grader toting a notebook and pen around making up stories. But my situation demanded more certainty than ‘writer’ provided, job-wise, and my low-income, high-pragmatism upbringing delivered me to the state university to study journalism – a guaranteed paycheck for writing!
Newspaper work was excruciating, but fulfilling and endlessly interesting, every day so different from the one that preceded it. But 60- or 70-hour workweeks called not for after-hours writing but for bars and concerts, where I unwound and tried to fall in love. There seemed time to write books later.
I backed away from writing gradually, first leaving daily journalism for fairly uninteresting web content production, then leaving that for marriage, a cross-country move and a grab bag of freelance writing gigs. Then for awhile there was nothing but a barking dog and baby cries and the love I had fallen in.
It was sheer fear of regret that eventually urged me forward – how could I possibly look myself in the eye later in life if I never even attempted to chase my dream? The self-loathing would be unbearable.
When the kids learned to bathe themselves, then climbed on school buses, I finally “finished” my book – at least to the extent that an agent read it and agreed to represent it/me. On life’s scale, that moment was a high-ranking thrill indeed.
As months passed and rejections rolled in, my hopelessness was not eased in the slightest by knowing many others, friends and strangers alike, charted similar paths to eventual publication. Many days I took no comfort in the achievement of finishing the manuscript and finding an agent, and many days I still don’t. Inside the head of an unpublished novelist whose work is on God knows whose tablet on a train bound for Brooklyn, month after month, is not a pleasant place to dwell.
The only thing that assuaged my patented blend of resignation and panic, aside from top-shelf margaritas, was writing more. So instead of fighting to quiet the voices, I opened the floodgates, starting a new novel, blogging here, committing to a monthly column for our town newspaper and monthly assignments for a new local magazine.
Every time I complete a piece – from idea to the research and human interaction required to the architecture and design of the writing itself to the final polishing – I’m left in a better place, with a mixture of pleasure at being done, mental invigoration around whatever I just learned about or contemplated, and curiosity at how the world will receive it.
It can be hard, and lonely, and discouraging. Not writing is much more so.
Some people who don’t write are mystified by the allure of all the opining and navel-gazing. They find it masochistic to invite criticism by publicly turning one’s head inside out. Others surely see it as self-important or, who knows, maybe even boring.
It’s none of that.
It’s practice rather than masochism that put me at ease with my words floating around the public sphere. From journalism school professors poking gentle fun at my (rough, naive and run-on) editorials to years grinding at a daily newspaper where mornings brought subscriber vitriol flowing from voicemail boxes (it was before email) and ended with editors reading over my shoulder with questions and doubts, I learned to write and release.
Self-importance? No, it’s just what feels right. I’d argue it’s more self-important to go through life without examining and reflecting on the world and its inhabitants, which is what writing is for me. Incuriosity is a sad and scary form of self-importance. People who don’t read: You mystify and frighten the rest of us.
Someone said that boredom is an insult to yourself; I can’t recall who, but I love that. The act of writing never bores me. If my writing bores you, apologies! Tastes vary. Eye-roll, yawn or doubt if you must. You chase your dream, I’ll chase mine.
The novel will either sell or it won’t, but at least old lady me can look in the mirror and know I tried. That will stave off the self-loathing.
Write and release.