Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Writing is Waiting... As It Should Be

Some days I want to stop. Pack in the writing. Try something else. Something faster. The publishing industry has always been slow (an eighteen month wait between selling a book to a publisher and seeing it on the shelves is typical), but in a time of instant everything, it seems slower now. The option to self-publish is always there, of course, something I may attempt in the future, but even that doesn't eliminate the amount of patience required to be a writer.

To date, I have a novel (THE LAST ANGEL) making rounds among literary agents. A spin off of the first novel, (CITY OF SLAVES) is currently being read by my beta-readers. And I'm working on the first draft of the sequel to The Last Angel. (UNHOLY WRATH) It feels like an awful lot of plates to keep in the air, but it isn't the amount of work that I find wearisome, it's the waiting. The daily drag  of hoping that this is the day an agent or reader or magazine gets back to you, and that they like your work. I've sent The Last Angel to forty seven agents so far. I've had some positive responses, including a full manuscript request from an agency in New York. The return time on whether they'll sign me: three months. (Three months!?)

Not that I'm complaining. I'm thrilled my work is getting some interest and I understand it takes time to sort through the thousands of projects, not to mention the time it takes to edit. But still, it's a grind. As a result, I go through the usual battery of writer-neurotic exercises: I'll never be a good writer, I think my work is pretty good, I've been doing this a long time and haven't had success, I'll never make it, my book is awesome, I'm too old, my sentences look like a lumber yard, these books will be bestsellers, I should have been a carpenter, etc...

This is not unusual. All writers (all artists) suffer through varying amounts of anguish when it comes to their work. Art is personal, and we're holding it out to the world to receive the praise or criticism or (worse) apathy, so it should matter. But again, this just makes it even more difficult.



Here's the thing though: writing is waiting.

Through the long haul of producing a first draft, the tediousness of scrubbing through a second and third draft, the waiting as we send the work to our beta-readers, the push through the final edit, the read-aloud edit, and all of that before the push to publish (self or traditional), where the waiting becomes even more intense. (And yes, it is very intense.)

When I was younger, I knew a lot of people who wanted to be writers. Many of them have given up. The process was too much. Too long. Why go through that hell when there were other noble aspirations. I understood completely, encouraged them in their new endeavors, and then got back to my latest piece. I've been writing for twenty years, and aside from a few essays in newspapers and a couple magazine pieces, I haven't had a great deal of success. Is that hard? Sure. But it isn't why I write. Every writer wants their work to see the light of publication, every writer wants to produce a best seller, and every writer wants to quit their day job so they can focus on their art. But that's not why I write.

Even the aphorism "a writer writes because they have to," misses the point. And in the process, makes writing sound like a chore. It's not. Hard work, yes. But not a chore.

I write because the agony of the wait is offset by the joy of my creation, and because it's the wait that produces that joy.

Think about it. How much would our work mean if we did it in one night? If our success actually happened over a weekend instead of a lifetime. How would it change us if we DIDN'T have to wait? And what kind of impact would it have on others?

Writers identify as writers when their worldview becomes an observatory, when we allow ourselves to be outsiders. Gradually, our scope widens, our empathy grows, and we begin to identify with people outside our original purview. This cannot happen without the growth and time that comes through the sometimes sluggish process of both creation and publication.

When I think back to those first days, young and eager to not only live the myth but be the myth, I really didn't know what I was getting myself into. I had no idea that it would be eight years before my first novel was accepted by a literary agent (unbelievable joy), and only six months later before the agent dumped me, and did so in the crushingly bland way of simply not returning my phone calls. No explanation. Nothing. (soul emptying) I had no idea that I would spend five years on a failed fantasy novel, and another two before finally hitting my stride.

And yet despite the disappointments, despite the weeks and months and years I've spent waiting, for one thing or another, I do not regret it. The process has changed me, changed me from the impetuous and judgmental young man that had no time for people who believed differently, people who were different. I have been forced for so long to see things through a long scope that it is the only scope that works for me now. I doubt very much that I would have such a healthy marriage without this change, doubt very much I could have spent twenty years as a special needs worker, and doubt that my worldview would focus so heavily on empathy. The waiting has done that. The years have done that. The writing has done that.

Maybe you haven't had as much success as you would have hoped. Maybe you've written a best seller and are finding it hard to reproduce your earlier success. Or maybe you're thinking your work isn't good enough, that you're not good enough, and that it will never happen. My advice? Keep writing, and enjoy the wait. You'll be grateful you did.

Steve