Still over here hacking away at a new novel. I’m officially around 20% of the way finished. This one’s easier to write than the one before it. Still, I find I have to negotiate with my brain every, single day in order to make my word count.
This is with the wind at my back, friends.
I don’t know why I find it so hard to beat back Resistance, even when I’m in a predictable writing habit. I wish it weren’t so.
All work, even creative work, requires grit and determination, though. (And writing feels like work, sometimes, let me tell you).
So, here’s to keeping on keeping on. Whatever you have going in your life right now, may you find the wherewithal to continue with it until it’s time to move to the next thing.
On Saturday night, I got a voicemail from a writing contest coordinator. I’d entered a big thing and, it turns out, my novel made it to the semi-finals.
The writing life is one in which a person can go a long time without any kind of outside validation. It’s hard to tell whether your writing is “good enough,” hard to find an agent, hard to break into traditional publishing.
Hard to keep going, sometimes.
So the news about the contest came at a good time. It made me feel I’m on to something, that my story resonates and is well-written. Four days later, however, I got my first ‘no’ from a major publisher. They asked if I had any other novels to show them (which, I guess, is a kind of compliment since it means they liked my writing). Still, a rejection.
It made me feel like I might have been kidding myself, that my story is confusing or weird, that it’s poorly written.
I didn’t cry, but I felt like someone had punched me in the gut.
But then two creatives whose careers I’ve followed died this week. They were young. One was a multi-published author with a big following. I felt sick and unsettled.
In my grief and shock, I decided, once again, that I’m not going to allow my life to be consumed with things that don’t matter in the end. I’m not going to be ruled by the ups and downs of the writing/publishing life.
I refuse. (Of course, I’ve refused before, so I’ll need to be reminded when the next big thing happens).
I’m here to say: I have an agent who’s great, a novel that is winning awards and is on submission to big houses, and I have a growing platform. These are the things I would have salivated over last year. Now that they’re my reality, though, I’m no happier than I was. I still worry about the next thing. What if a publisher doesn’t understand what I’m trying to do? What if I get published and no one buys my book? What if they buy my book and hate it? Or worse, don’t care at all?
My life could be over tomorrow. Or today. I refuse to spend it hand wringing about things I cannot control.
In the end, there are more important things than whether I’m published or not. And being published will not end up making me happy.
My agent just sent my manuscript to three big publishers. Now there’s nothing for me to do but to continue my daily life, to not allow my thoughts to burn in a fire of what-if’s since I’m not promised tomorrow–or even 2:30 this afternoon. I want to wait well, though, so far, I am not successful.
My sister brought this beautiful Wendell Berry poem to my attention. For me, it sums up the struggle of being a human ruled by time.
“From the Crest”
I am trying to teach my mind to bear the long, slow growth of the fields, and to sing of its passing while it waits.
The farm must be made a form, endlessly bringing together heaven and earth, light and rain building back again the shapes and actions of the ground.
Wendell Berry, Collected Poems (San Francisco: North Point, 1985), 190-91.
I would like to cool my mind, to accept the good gifts God gives me in the time He chooses to give them, or, maybe, to accept the withholding of them. I would like to teach my mind to bear long, slow growth, both today and tomorrow (if I’m still here).
Once again, I just got around to watching a movie others had seen years ago–this time, Stranger Than Fiction with Emma Thompson and Will Ferrell. (For the two of you who haven’t seen it, I won’t include spoilers). I’ve gotta admit, while the film has its flaws, it’s stuck with me for over a week.
The story is an unusual one. An author who’s suffering from writer’s block attempts to create a character who will live an ordinary life and then die at the end of the novel. A problem arises when the character becomes a real person who can hear the author narrating his life in third person. When he discovers he’s in a story he isn’t creating–and that he’ll most likely meet a heartbreaking, artistic demise–he must learn to advocate for his own life. He must confront his author.
The movie delves into questions about the nature of human existence and the artist’s imperative. For instance, do we own our stories, or do they live outside us? As writers, how often do we indulge ourselves by crafting stories that feel like an approximation of truth–but, in the end, rely on cynicism or well-worn tropes? Also, who’s writing the writers’ lives?
The movie’s also about depression, about what can happen to art when an artist has lost hope. It made me think about the characters I’ve created. What would I say to them if they stood before me? Would they appreciate the endings I’ve given their stories? Would they agree that I’ve said true things? That I’ve been fair?
I don’t know. I think so.
Stranger Than Fiction caused me to re-examine my commitment to creating worlds where both good and bad things happen, worlds where there’s danger and sorrow, sure, but also hope. It made me want to keep on saying the truest things I know how to say.
I owe that to my myself, my readers, and to those people whose stories I write down.