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Sunday, December 17, 2006

 

Forget your troubles, come on, get happy...

... and start now, because this is a fact: publication doesn't make your life any easier.

If you're an aspiring writer, you won't believe a word of this, and why should you? But it's true, and it's helpful to know when you have to cope with the inevitable round of rejections and bitten fingernails:

The little blue gargoyle isn't going anywhere. He's quite comfortable where he is.

Let me explain. You write a book, you desperately want it to get published. We've all been there. You want it so badly that it becomes the focus of all your wishes, you can't see beyond it, your life starts to revolve around the idea that if you get published you'll have everything you could ask for.

Now, that's completely natural - but it's dangerous thinking. What you need to guard against is the idea that if you can just get this book published, everything will be better and your life will be sorted out. It doesn't happen that way.

When I first heard about getting a publication deal, I was wildly excited. For a couple of weeks, I was happy all the time, constantly happy. If the happiness flagged, I just had to think 'I'm getting published!' and boom, it was back again.

Then I got used to the idea.

The thing is, nobody can continually sustain the same level of reaction to something: you'd go crazy. When you go from being unpublished to soon-to-be-published, it's a huge change in your circumstances, notionally at least. But once a few months have gone by, you readjust. This is your life now. People who ask me 'what does it feel like to be published?' are difficult to answer. Well, it feels good, of course it does. It's nicer than not being published, no question, and I'm not complaining, because that would be stupid. But day to day, it feels just like being unpublished, only more published. It doesn't mean I don't get wet and miserable if I forget my umbrella on a rainy day, it doesn't mean I don't worry about money, it doesn't mean that it's any easier to get people to like me, it doesn't mean that my loved ones do what I want any more readily, it doesn't mean I'm any less bothered if someone criticises me. I was excited when I got the news, and then I went back to being me.

For one thing, publication is only the first step. Reviews are horribly nerve-racking. Sales are vital. How people react to the book matters. You have to write another one. You can't stop caring about the things you cared about before getting published, because it's not the end of the problem, just a big hurdle you've now cleared and got behind you - and oh look, there's another one coming up just ahead.

I used not to call myself a writer; it sounded pretentious, like I was laying claim to a title I hadn't earned. First I said to myself, I'm not a writer until I have some kind of proof my stuff is any good.

Well, I got a few short stories published. I was ecstatic. Then after a few weeks, my conscience spoke again: is that proof enough?

All right, I said to appease it: maybe if I get an agent, that'll prove I'm a writer.

I got an agent, one that I liked and respected. I was thrilled.

Ah, said my conscience, but you're not published.

I got published. It took a long time. The time between first starting to teach myself how to write and my first novel coming out came to ten years. But it finally happened, with Random House, no less, a company I'd always admired. I was overjoyed.

Ah, said my conscience, but that doesn't make you a successful writer.

I sold movie rights to Warner Brothers. Does that make me successful, I asked my conscience plaintively?

No, it whispered back. It's only in development, it might never get made. And even if it is, people might like the film and hate your book. And what about sales of the actual book? And you still are looking at financial insecurity and potentially mixed reviews in the long term, you garret-scribbling wannabe.

I'm starting suspect that it's possible to make millions with your books and have universal rave reviews and still have that little whispering voice in your head that says, 'That hurdle doesn't count. Clear the next one and then we'll talk.' Because there's an absolute trump card that it can play no matter what happens:

Ah, it can say. Your last book went well. But what about your next one?

I'm starting to get used to it. And actually, it's fine. The little whisperer in your head is a good friend to you in some senses: it stops you turning into a raving egomaniac screaming 'Do you know how important I think I am?!' every time life doesn't go your way. It makes you hold yourself up to high standards and warns you about letting your writing slip. It reminds you that you have to work at this. Once you've identified the little beggar - in my head it's a small blue gargoyle - you can recognise those doubts as a reflex action, part of the process, rather than an objective assessment of the situation.

But saying you'll feel better if you get published is only his first trick. Believe me, he's got others.

Once you've cleared the latest hurdle, and the little blue gargoyle is doing his thing and you're back at the scribbling board, what it always comes down to is how happy a person you were at the outset. Everyone has a baseline of happiness, a default setting that's more about temperament than circumstances, and it's that that'll see you through. If you want to be happy, then the best thing to do is work on learning how to enjoy life even if it isn't quite what you think it should be. Publication doesn't have much to do with that.

It's okay to want to be published. It's okay to be desperate about it. It's okay to crawl off and cry over a rejection. I've done all those things. But once you've dried your eyes, don't let it build up to the point where it starts crowding out happiness. Even if you do get published, there'll be more to worry about. You might as well start working on being happy now. Whether you sell your work or not, it'll stand you in better stead than listening too closely to gargoyles.

Comments:
From your perspective on both sides of the industry, thank you for the reality check. I'm at the point where I've got the few short stories mounted on the wall, working with an agent and trying to make that first novel hurdle...and yea, I have to admit that part of me thinks that once I hit that, it'll be smooth sailing from there. Thank you for reminding me to enjoy where I'm at now, as much as the happiness I will experience when I reach those many future goals.


www.jrvogt.com
 
Congratulations on having an agent, though! Good luck. :-)
 
Great post!

After the agony of the rejections, when I got an agent a couple of weeks ago (the same as yours Kit, by the way!) I was over the moon. Now my book is with a publisher and I've already bitten my finger nails down to the quick. It's so nice to know that this voice in the back of my head saying "Take it easy buddy, you haven't got anywhere really..." is not going to shut up even if I do get published!
 
Well, congratulations! Do grab my arm if you pass me in the lobby sometime. Nothing to do but cross your fingers, but Sophie is extremely smart and tenacious, so let's hope for good things... And let me know if it sells, I'd be interested to hear about it :-)
 
Oh thanks, I will! But it's not so easy because I live in Warsaw! :-) Edina seems to be handling things at the moment, and I think she's wonderful after the help she gave me to improve it! Anyway, do please keep going with this blog - it's hugely informative AND entertaining, so don't stop. Please.
 
I blush. Thank you. Tell the world! There's going to be a big drive to promote the site online in the new year, so I'm definitely carrying on - it's nice hearing from everyone posting. :-)

Yep, Edina's great. Nice, smart, knows what she's doing... Excellent lady. It's very nice to have faith in your agency.
 
If you'd like to be part of a THANK YOU video for Miss Snark, send an e-mail to: redheartnovels@lesiavalentine.com

Include: Your thank you - no more than 7 words

A picture or avatar NOT in an attachment. Please don't send a link to it. I will not have time to go look up everyone's pic. If you don't have one, that's okay.

I've spammed just about everyone (forgive me!) because not everyone's e-mail address is available to me. If you know writers who would like to be part of this project, please pass the word, but let's try to surprise her with it. Thank you for your indulgence. I really am sorry about the spam, but I didn't want to leave you out if you wanted to be in!

DEADLINE: MONDAY DECEMBER 18 @ 11 PM CST!!!!!!! (EXTENDED, BUT THIS MAY BE YOUR LAST CHANCE, SO HURRY!)

p.s. I won’t have time to personally thank everyone who participates, but I DO THANK YOU!
 
My friend just immed me, I was sitting here feeling down and icky because of this cold and the computer problems, and I opened the book and I love it.

The book? Benighted.

I knew she'd love it!
 
Of course, now you can get bad reviews before you've even finished writing the book...

http://blogs.guardian.co.uk/books/2006/12/the_unsubtle_world_of_crime_re.html
 
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