In For Writers, Writing

Last night, at around 11:00 pm, I finished writing a first draft of a novel. It is the third I’ve finished since the one I published.

The tale of why none of the three have made it out in the world is one for another day. Although, to be fair, with one being less than 24 hours old, maybe we don’t count that one yet. Not to mention that it’s soon to be off to the land of critique partners and rewrites, a good month or two (optimistically) from being trotted out for the judgement and rejection and, hopefully, the eventual acceptance by first an agent, then an editor, and, later, some readers. And not that I’ve given up on the other two, either.

I have commented before that publishing is a bruising business, whose sharp edges are aimed at those least likely to survive them unscathed: the sensitive, the introverts, the kids who preferred a rainy day and a book nook to the rough and tumble of other people.

But life is weird that way.

For many years, I wrote, but never called myself a writer. I’d walked the echoing halls of those monuments, staring upwards in awe, the church of Nabokov, the temple of Atwood, the coliseum of Shakespeare. I could not presume to even pitch a tent amid all that towering, impressive emotion and description. I couldn’t. Until an agent said. Until an editor. Until a crowd.

I got that, in some measure, and it was nearly everything I hoped it would be. But, like most dreams fulfilled, it was also entirely different than I’d imagined. It wasn’t a back cover closing on a book definitively. It was a doodle on a great blank wall of a giant room that expands like taffy, pulled in odd shapes by experience and expectation, never looking the same way twice.

So, here I am in the taffy room of the writer’s life. I call myself a writer now. There I pop a window with my popsicle stick, here I vault a column on my unicorn steed. Whatever. I can’t lose. I can’t win, either, but that matters less and less.

I stopped submitting my second post-pub novel to new agents (the one that caused the super-amicable break-up with my first agency) because a few months ago an editor suggested my work-in-progress (the one I finally finished last night) was a stronger contender in today’s market. It took all my self-control to heed that advice, to hold off and finish that instead of trying to power through querying agents with the work that was done. I have a vague nausea at the sense of moving goal posts, but that’s still about external validation, so I try to let that go.

It’s complicated. I’d like to say I intend to grow past the need for reviews and accolades, but if that were true I’d be scrawling poems on slips of paper and secreting them in crevices in my walls. I don’t. I never will. (Also: I am a terrible poet). I want it all, the search lights outside the movie premiere of the film adaptation of my work, the “overnight success” stories in the press that I can rail against, the knowledge that my only two tasks for the day are brewing a fine cup of tea to take out on the sun porch of my lake house and writing the next chapter.

But it is here, and it is now, and I’m a lot closer to the “crevices in the wall” portion of my career than to the Entertainment Weekly interview. The future is opaque, fickle, and disinclined to much consider my aspirations. But that’s okay. Because the words hum in the distance, and I follow them. It’s all I know how to do.

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