There are some conversations I seem to have with myself over and over again. One of them is worrying if I am doing the right things for the writing life I want to live.
Sometimes I think it would be so much easier (in my writing world) if I wrote fantasy or stories with magical creatures or maybe dark spooky stories about creatures of the night. They seem so popular compared to the stories that call for me to tell them. And sometimes I think it would be easier to write if I was writing full-time. That might not be true (though I wouldn’t mind getting a chance to try.) Sometimes I think if I had spent my time just writing novels rather than taking all the sideroads I have over the years, that maybe I would be further along.
I know it should be all about enjoying the process of writing but once you have sold some books it’s hard not to think about it as a business too. And when I think about the business side I can get sad fast. Books that take years to earn out their advance make it hard. And when I’m not writing fast enough to get stuff out there to deserve a new advance, well that’s hard too.
There are days (okay weeks and maybe even months) when all I seem able to do is wallow around in the “if only” ocean, usually after a rejection to a book that I felt was a personal best at that time and was unable to find an editor who loved it enough to champion its cause. And so I wallow for a while and wonder why I bother. And sometimes I try to quit, to think about a life without writing, and the pain I get in my gut at such a thought feels worse than I imagine any heart attack to feel. I think I’ve finally reached the point where I just accept that writing isn’t just what I do, it’s who I am. The good and the bad is all mixed up and I can’t even quit when the market is constantly shrinking and the readers seem unable to find us and when even great editors are choosing to spend their money on advances to celebrity authors instead of on the rest of us.
Sometimes I write to learn about myself and how I feel about things. Sometimes I write in order to hide from who I am, who I think I am, or who I am afraid of becoming. But mostly I write because writing defines me. When I’m not writing, when I’m not in the midst of a project of some kind or another, I don’t feel like I really exist. I can walk through the dayjob and do all the right things but it doesn’t define me. It’s just a job. But when the words race out my fingers and across the screen it’s like flipping the switch on Frankenstein’s monster and I’m alive.
I’m sorry for everyone who ever doubts that the work we do is worth the time and pain we invest in telling our stories. All I know for sure is that as a “lonely only” and misunderstood child books were the only place I felt safe enough to be myself. They taught me about other possibilities in life outside of what I was living and gave me dreams to work to make come true.
Books have saved me until I was strong enough to save myself.
And to every writer who has ever written something that I have read, I say thank you.
This is my favorite line; “Books have saved me until I was strong enough to save myself.”
You asked and then answered your own question. Nicely done!
Thanks, and it’s so true. Books seem to be the one anchor I am able to hold onto in life.
me – not awake enough to log in. 🙂
I’m glad you got this out, Susan.
This is a hard place to write from. But all you say at the end of this piece is right. And I’m certain that what you’re working on now has the potential to make that very same difference to another young reader.
Thanks, Linda. I feel in-between that darn rock and a hard place that my grandmother always talked about. It’s like hope and dreams meet reality. I’m never been good at reality. 🙂
Consider the rock a pedestal. Climb on top and see what view you get from up there.
Love love love your attitude, Linda. Thank you!
Argh – major typos this morning and for some reason I don’t get an “edit” option on this reply. It should have been
I’ve never been good at reality.
Susan, this is so beautiful. I don’t really wish for a best-selling, award-winning book (ok, that’s a lie…that would be nice). But I just want to get my books out there to reach some kids, even if it’s not a big number. I know that books created the world I lived in as a child, they were the ocean I swam in, the air I breathed, every day. I want to contribute to that ocean, even if my one little drop isn’t very distinguishable from another drop. Just to help create the ocean that will save other kids, as you said…
Thank you for sharing. This post was especially timely as I’m trying to get people to nominate more poetry books for the Cybils. It’s amazing how many books by even big names and major publishers I’m having to get through interlibrary loan, because my library system hasn’t bought them. It’s very depressing.
Thanks, Laura. I keep telling myself that the most important thing is for me is to tell my story and for you to tell your story because I know that you can’t tell my story any more than I can tell yours and we might have just the story for that one child in need.
But then I look at things like my royalty statements (I received the last of them this weekend) and I realize that money is just an accidental happenstance for me in this business and I have to accept the reality of having to continue to work for many, many years to come. Not handling that well at all.
I can understand that! I’d love a nice mix of highly commercial work that sold well plus smaller-audience stuff that I felt was important and maybe didn’t sell well but at least got out there. Not too much to ask for, huh?
“books were the only place I felt safe enough to be myself.” Yes. And yes to you knowing that writing is who you are.
I feel that every bit of writing I do, no matter how small, changes me a a person. If I publish my writing, I’m happy because I’m connecting to something larger than myself. But even if the publishing part is rare, the change part is not—it happens every time. And I live for that.
I’m glad my thoughts are understandable to others. 🙂
I think that is part of the frustration right now – I am not writing enough to effect the change in myself that is inevitable when we write and so I feel rather stagnant and I hate that feeling. But I’m the only one who can change it. I just need more hours in the day.
“But when the words race out my fingers and across the screen it’s like flipping the switch on Frankenstein’s monster and I’m alive.”
The business end of this is tough, though! I got down looking at a table of new releases and wondered how the heck someone was going to chose my book out of the sea of endless titles. I’m also dealing with “I thought this book was gonna be like Twilight”.
Perhaps I should ask my publisher to put a “not like Twilight and not like typical vamp story you are probably expecting” stickers on the cover.
LOL on the “not like Twilight” sticker. You can probably have a lot of fun with that in your talks.
Sometimes I get inspired in bookstores and sometimes, like you said, I look at all the new releases and wonder how they are going to find me in the middle of so many others.
I’m sorry you’ve been having such a difficult time, Susan. Books are such a solace.
Thanks, Kelly. I’m caught in the merry-go-round and I don’t know how to jump off anymore.
Thanks for sharing this conversation with yourself, Susan. I’ve had versions of it in my head. HUGGING THE ROCK is such a beautiful book and I’m grateful you wrote it. Thank you.
Thank you, Tracy. That means a lot.
Yes. Even with the market shrinking, for those of us who grew up loving books, needing books…I know I have to keep trying to connect with my younger selves who are out there, and who need books. And you have to write what you’re called to write, I think, whether or not the market is into it. Whenever I’ve tried to be false to that. it just never works for me. But it is hard sometimes, gosh.
It is hard. Harder still when we all have these needs for money, as if writers shouldn’t think about that grim reality – money to pay the mortgage and groceries and all those other little day-to-day expenses. Some writers think it is crass to talk about money needs but heck, it is reality. We all need it to survive and you don’t make much of it writing.
Thanks for listening.
And so I wallow for a while and wonder why I bother.
Susan, I do this more and more often lately. I think, “I’ll take a break. Make some real money for the bank account. I’ll bake more cookies for the kids and read more books and do some home remodeling and focus on the campground more (because it actually pays the bills)”
Hang in there. We all understand how you feel. You write beautiful books and those are needed very very much.
Re: And so I wallow for a while and wonder why I bother.
Yes, that is so much of it but it fights with what I feel like I need to survive – writing goes along with breathing with me and yet I feel like I can’t do it because I have to worry about bringing money in. Caught in one of those endless loops which was made worse the other day when I realized I had another 15 years or so to go before retirement and feeling overwhelmed with the financial needs.
15 years or so to go before retirement . . .
It’s a vicious circle, isn’t it?
Perhaps we’ll celebrate our retirements and our newfound freedom to write 24/7 at the same time!
This was such a good post, Susan.
Slow and Steady
I struggle with some of the same things. It’s easy to question myself. Why am I writing realistic historical fiction when the books everyone raves about are fantasy, graphic novels, and just plain cutting edge stuff that will never cross my mind.
My books and I feel downright dowdy!
But I tell myself that all genres have their day and this will probably pass. And when it does I will be more practiced at what I do and perhaps the public will be more ready for it also.
I haven’t read Hugging the Rock but I intend to – soon! It sounds like it is the kind of fiction that offers much needed validation to so many peope’s stories.
I believe that validating individual stories is one of the most significant reasons for reading and writing.
Sometimes the slow road is the most sure one! I’d like to think we are on a sure path.
Been there. Sometimes I can’t believe how long everything takes. As my friend Kelly Fineman reminds me, “It takes as long as it takes,” which I find comforting somehow.
I heard a writer speak at a conference a year or two ago, a writer who also teaches. She said that, looking back at all her students, the most successful ones shared one quality: persistence. The ability to keep going in the face of an awful lot of “no thanks.”