Last year around this time I’d hit a roadblock on my very long road to publication. I was starting to question my resolve to continue writing, never mind pursuing publication. I’d written nine—NINE—novels (several multiple times) and didn’t have anything to show for it. Except for the nine finished novels, of course. Which at the time, sadly, seemed like nothing to me, because I didn’t have any of them under contract. What I did have was a stack of rejections. No money earned for all of that work. A child about to begin his senior year of high school, and therefore college (and horrifyingly high tuition payments) was looming. My husband gently mentioned that after four years of my writing full-time, I might want to possibly consider maybe looking for a job.
Oh. And my agent abruptly left the business.
It was a dark time in my writer’s journey, to put it mildly. And there I’d always been the gung ho writer who wrote for the sake of writing, the self-disciplined little worker bee, hauling myself out of the house to complete my word count goal every day, absorbing rejections by writing charming thank-you notes to the rejectors and redoubling my efforts by rewriting old novels and/or starting new ones.
There was a moment though, around this time last year, when I didn’t think I could do it anymore. What was the point of writing these books that no one except a few family members and friends were ever going to read? How could I justify the time taken from the pursuit of a real job, the time and energy taken from my kids, my husband, my sad sorry state of a house? How could I continue to have those awkward conversations where I’d meet someone and she’d ask me what I did and I’d say, "I’m a writer," and she’d say, "Oh, where I can I find your books?" And I’d have to say, "Um, nowhere," while adding the word, "yet," and wonder if the woman was then looking at me as a deluded flaky dreamer.
I blogged about this angsty process—a lot—grappling with how to continue working toward something that might (gulp) never happen. But finally, and I’m not sure how it clicked, but somehow, I just let it go. I was going to write because I couldn’t imagine myself doing anything else. Also, I told my husband I’d get a durn job. Durn it. And then I set a date six months in advance.
Which was when I got my publishing deal.
Yeah. So that was cool.
I’ve been thinking about all of this (and reliving it, remembering that dark time when I almost quit right when I was about to pass over) because a good friend of mine is grappling with some of the same angsty themes in her own writing journey. The last thing she probably wants to hear from me is that she shouldn’t quit, that it’s going to happen to her too, that she’s just got to keep writing, blah blah blah. Because (having been there myself) I know exactly what she is thinking:
"How does she know?" and "What if it doesn’t happen?" and "Why am I doing this?" and "What is the point?" and blah blah blah.
But I am going to tell her anyway.
Dear Writer Friend,
Don’t even think about quitting.
Because what you write is wonderful and smart and funny and full of heart and totally worthy of being published. Okay. So maybe it hasn’t made it into the right hands of the right person at the right moment yet, but that doesn’t mean that it won’t. By sheer force of will and (statistical probability) if you keep sending your work out, one of those pieces will slide across the desk of the person who has been waiting all along for that very story. And, sheesh! It will be about time!
Because you have talent and skill and years of writing experience. I’ve read your stories and novels and I’ve also read tons of published stuff, and your work is just as good, often ridiculously better. I confess that when I open up one of your writing files, something you’ve asked me to look over, I get a little thrill that I am one of the very first readers on the planet to read it, this book that I know will eventually be published. Maybe you will put my name on the acknowledgment page, I daydream egotistically, and then I will be connected (in a small way) to this soon to be classic, beloved story.
Because writing is what you do, and regardless of your publishing status, you are a writer. Yes, I know, this is the hard part to come to terms with. In our society if you don’t earn money doing something, it isn’t taken seriously. Well, I say: PFFFT to that. There are a lot of worthy things that we do in this world that earn us no money at all. I’ll give you one example: being a parent.
Because if you can push aside the annoying, frustrating, not-being-published-yet part and also ignore the self doubts and awkward conversations with well-meaning but clueless people, what you and I get to do every day, is really really cool. I wish I could go back and smack myself for my dark thoughts last year, when I thought that those nine books I created were nothing. Come on! How many people can say they’ve written nine books? Or any books? Or in your case, dear friend, hundreds of stories…
How many people are lucky enough to spend their days creating anything?
Or are lucky enough to do it so well?
Very very few.
Which is why I hope that whenever you have a low moment and the naggy thought about quitting buzzes around in your mind, you will smack it away like the pesky bug that it is.
And keep writing.