I’ve put off writing this post for a long time because I didn’t want it to sound like sour grapes. I wanted it to be observations of one writer’s journey, and I wanted it to be something positive, something I hope will be helpful to other writers, writers with less experience than I’ve had. I couldn’t write it with a bitter taste in my mouth. I had to wait until I could write it from a place of not feeling hard-done-by, a place of having no regrets, and a place of looking forward to what comes next in my writing journey.
There are hard lessons I’ve learned through my years as a novelist that I was told early on, back before I had anything published, back when I had stars in my eyes of making the NYT Best Seller list, of making that bank breaking publishing deal. Every published writer that I ever met in person, heard speak, or saw at a conference, tried to say to the whole audience of starry-eyed newbies — some gently; some not so much — that if you don’t do it for the love of writing, for the love of story, then best quit now. Writing novels is not the way to get rich quick, and it’s most definitely not for the faint of heart.
I can only speak from my own experience, but I’d be willing to bet that every one of us went away from those author encounters as sure as we were of our own name that we would be the exception to the rule, that we would be the one to sign the big book deal.
There’s no gentle way to say it, so usually I just don’t say it at all. I didn’t believe it, and I doubt any other novice writer in the history of writing ever believes it either. I would never discourage anyone. I would never want anyone to miss out on the passion, the ritual, the incredible connection I feel to the written word, to story, BUT there are a few hard lessons I’ve learned that I’d like to share, and before I do, I would like to add a disclaimer.
DISCLAIMER: Write! Don’t ever stop writing! Do it for love! Do it for passion! Do it for sheer unadulterated pleasure! Do it for the agony and the pain and the journey! BUT try to do the impossible and write from a place of no expectations beyond that of the journey. The journey is SO worth it! I wouldn’t have missed out on any of it!
Hard Lesson One: Publishing is a business. The industry does not, cannot, love me no matter how fabulous my writing is, no matter what a really great person I may be. It moves with the business trends, it moves with the money. Why should I expect it to be otherwise? It’s never anything personal, and yet we writers tend to view it that way because … well I don’t know about you lot, but I’m certainly a special snowflake.
Hard Lesson Two: Get a F*cking Life! This lesson nearly killed me. I work for myself; that means I have no set hours; I have no agenda. I have no children, so no one is making demands on my time, and my husband travels a lot. I believed that the more time I spent writing, promoting, doing what all good novelists in the age of social media are supposed to do, the more the industry would realize what a special snowflake I really am and the more it would love me and THEN I’d get the big deal.
Health wrecked, seriously OD-ing on sour grapes, and finding myself on the disappointing side of the 50SoG phenomenon with a gazillion other writers, I remembered all the things I USED to do before I began obsessively chasing the elusive big deal that was always out there just beyond my reach. I went back to the gym, I started walking again. I spent more time doing things totally unrelated to writing. I found that the less obsessive I became, the better my writing got and the more I was able to open my fist and let go of that white-knuckled effort to control. The more I began to enjoy my writing again, the less it mattered that the publishing industry didn’t love me.
Life is short, and writing is a long journey. If I’m in it for the long haul, then I need a life, a real life. I need real experiences, experiences that inspire, that tease, that ache and hurt and innervate. I have to find the place at the center because that’s really the place from which I write anyway. And the surprising truth is that sometimes I’m closest to the most powerful writing when I’m farthest away from my keyboard.
Hard Lesson Three: Learn to Let Go. The hard truth is that, to a large degree, that elusive publishing deal, ANY publishing deal depends on luck — a name-dropping at the right time, catching the eye of the right editor or agent, someone who loves what you wrote. Sadly, it isn’t about being so brilliant that the world recognizes my total genius. It’s less about quality and more about circumstances – what’s selling in the market at the time. If my work fits in with the trends, I might get lucky.
Having said all of that, hope springs eternal. Letting go just a little bit means I’m able to see things more clearly and the Muse is able to beat it into my thick skull that it’s time to be adventurous again, it’s time to play with words again. It’s
been a terrifying delight this past year to write stories that have been in my heart for a long time, but I’ve not had time, nor courage, to write – terrifying in that I don’t know if I can sell them, delightful in that I feel like I’ve come home after being gone a long time. Oh it’s not a total change. I’m still writing erotica, still loving it, but I’m doing it from a much more relaxed place.
Today I spent three glorious hours “walking a novel.” It’s all plotted and in my head now. I’ll start the actual writing in a couple of days, when my decks are clear. I can’t wait! I have no idea what will happen next, but what I do know is that the hard lessons are worth learning as quickly as possible because what’s beyond them is WAAAY too exciting to miss out on.