FIVE THINGS I WISH I DID NOT KNOW ABOUT WRITING
The best years of your life are the ones in which you decide your problems are your own. You do not blame them on your mother, the economy, or the president, you realize that you control your own destiny.
I am not attempting here, as Arthur Plotnik calls it, the Death-defying stunt of telling others how to write. The following list-of-five is the scab that I’ve grown over a particularly painful wound.
My third novel, an autobiographical YA that I’d labored on for years had just been published. Norman Babbit, Scientist, I hoped, would generate some sales. I knew it would never make me rich, but I hoped that even some meager success would allow me to take time off from waiting tables—scale back, quitting is a financial impossibility—so I could write another novel that would be another meager success which would allow me to take time off to write another…..
But when I saw Norman Babbit, Scientist’s price, $17.95, I knew I was screwed. No one would ever pay this much for a 137 page YA novel. The book I’d worked so hard on had been stillborn. It would never sell—even I wouldn’t buy it for that price.
I’ve always been a writer (and, therefore, by necessity a waiter—see JOKE OF THE DAY, below) but this was a reality check, and it hurt. For the first time ever—and I have suitcases full of rejection slips for articles, short stories, novels, and screenplays—I considered quitting.
I wanted to send my resume to a headhunter and get a real job with health benefits, vacation pay and a 401K. Writing, despite years of effort and regular publication wasn’t paying the bills. In my fifties I was doing precisely the same thing I’d done in college: read and write during the day and wait tables at night. Despite the blithe, symmetric wisdom of: Quitters never win, winners never quit. When the going gets tough, the tough get going. It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of fight in the dog I wanted to quit. All these clichés are true but I had been propelled to a despair that was beyond aphorisms and inspiration. I felt trodden upon, abused, and defeated.
I’d been bruised to the point where I didn’t know if I had the backbone to accept another shattering moment, not only of rejection, but of seeming success. Another published credit that didn’t get me anywhere. Another book that nobody would read. Yes, I’m proud of Norman Babbit, Scientist and it certainly beats not being in print, but just barely.
I descended into a professional depression.
Writers are masterful at appearing to be working: if I finished half the stuff I said I was working on just to avoid mowing the lawn and painting the house I’d already be an unqualified success.
After Norman Babbit, Scientist’s publication I performed “Peripheral Writing” for nearly two years: rewrites on old manuscripts, research, and writing exercises. I had quit without officially giving up.
I honestly didn’t know if I had the guts to continue being a writer.
During the last two years, after several admittedly half-assed attempts at writing another novel, I examined my motivation and my “career” up to this point and have discovered these FiveThings I Wish I Did Not Know about Writing.
ONE: WRITING IS WORK
When I stepped from hard manual work to writing, I just stepped from one kind of hard work to another.
A quiet cabin in Tahoe, your Muse whispering in your ear, a chilled bottle of champagne awaiting the final word of the first draft (Ha!) an eager, well-connected agent anxiously awaiting the manuscript…
It’s more like slurping down a cup of coffee and forgoing a nap before work to try and flesh out a scene that you’ll probably cut when-and-if you finish this third (or is it the fourth?) rewrite. Your soft-spoken Muse had better be heard over a vacuum cleaner and a screaming child or you’ll never, ever accomplish a bloody thing.
As with all professions the reality is somewhat less glitzy than the idealized perception. Perhaps I’m a wimp but I’m always daunted and more than a bit fearful and awed by the effort necessary to produce a book. Writing is work and writers, being humans, will procrastinate, make excuses and take shortcuts. I’ve really had to remind myself that market research, chatting on-line with other writers, and attending seminars aren’t writing.
Self-delusion is also another nasty trait those pesky humans possess and I too am guilty. Unless there are substantially more words on the page at the end of the day, you haven’t been—for that day at least—a writer. You may have been a writer; you may want to be a writer, but for that day, face the facts, you haven’t been a writer.
Open your current project, click TOOLS, then click WORD COUNT. If it doesn’t increase significantly (I consider 700 words a day significant—and doable) on a daily basis you are not, despite all good intentions, genetics, dreams, goals, wishes and hopes a writer.
Like Global Warming, this is an inconvenient truth, but a crucial one.
#2 "What I Wish I Did Not Know About Writing" will be posted tomorrow....
JOKE OF THE DAY:
What's the best way to get a freelance writer off your front porch?
Pay for the pizza.
Rob's never delivered pizza. He prefers to bring people food indoors. Check out where he's currently working at www.farmhouseinn.com