Didn’t You Finish That Yet? (and Other Pesky Questions)

There’s a writer acquaintance I’ve been meaning to contact for a while. She and I were both working on novels a few years ago.

When she finished her manuscript, she sent out a few queries and tried to quickly score an agent. Getting no bites, she decided to self-publish. To her way of thinking, her book was done and she wanted it out there. She sold a bunch of copies, attended some local book signings, enjoyed her brief notoriety, and then moved on to new ventures.

I, on the other hand, finished my manuscript, sent out some queries, got some passes, enrolled in a workshop, enrolled in another workshop, brought the manuscript to a conference, got some feedback, attended another conference, rewrote some chapters, got some more feedback, added a new opening, sent out some queries…

My writer acquaintance possibly could give me some advice or even pass along some ideas or contacts. But first, I know, she’ll ask me that dreaded question, the same question she asked me a year ago: “You’re STILL working on that?”

And then she’ll add, as she did back then, “Boy, I admire your persistence,” which sounds like a compliment but feels like an invitation to write a big “DL” across my forehead for “Delusional Loser.”

Last year, I attended a writers conference that included a session about “success,” and the presenter began by asking everyone in the room to say what “writing success” meant to them. At one end of the spectrum, some people said simply “to finish my manuscript”; at the other end was the answer, “to be the next J.K. Rowling.”

Clearly, my acquaintance’s definition of success was to make a book. But does that have to be mine, too — as her questions have implied?

The thing is, I realized at that conference that my definition of “writing success” had become a moving target — and not in a good way. When I first graduated college, my one goal was to get a job that involved writing. That was easy — I found one without too much difficulty in the corporate communications department of a large company. But soon after, I decided that corporate communications wasn’t enough — that I would find true happiness only in a job in the publishing industry. So I became an associate editor with a small publisher of business books and periodicals. Again, my perspective changed, and I decided I would be satisfied only if I had a job writing bylined articles — and then, only if I could  write bylined articles in national newsstand-type magazines. All accomplished — just at the moment that I decided success meant publishing a novel.

Sure, it’s important to have a destination — but isn’t it also important to see good in the process?

The truth is, writing — the process of making meaning through words — means so much more to me than simply getting stuff out there. Writing was my companion when my kids were babies, keeping my imagination going during those mind-numbing hours spent in the sandbox at the playground, so that I could come back to my computer and pour my thoughts out. Writing was my companion during bad times, when the computer screen and the characters in my head provided a needed diversion from a painful reality.

Writing has been my vehicle for learning and growing, for understanding people and life and relationships. Writing is my way to make sense of dreams, and to crystallize memories and experiences so I can own them, and they won’t disappear. And writing has been the vehicle that’s brought me some of the best friends I have.

So when I call and she asks,  “You’re STILL working on that?”

I hope I will answer, “Yes, indeed. Lucky me!”

A rare, enlightened day in the life of just another working writer.

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7 Responses to “Didn’t You Finish That Yet? (and Other Pesky Questions)”

  1. egotasticearthmom Says:

    I know your stress of trying to perfect your art! Be unique and one in a million don’t churn it out like so many others. It’s wonderful that you value your writing!!!!

  2. susanwbailey Says:

    Blogging helps you get out there while you work on the more serious work. Is obtaining the legitimacy of being published by a traditional publisher important to you? In describing your process, it sounds like it is (nothing wrong with that!) .

    I am enjoying the process so much. I have ideas about a book or two but haven’t reached the point yet of tacking it – the idea is overwhelming. Several people have just told me to begin and I think I will be able to soon.

    I have a feeling I will be following a path similar to yours. 🙂

    • justanotherworkingwriter Says:

      Thanks for the comment. I agree, I like the process too. It’s fun, really, to have all these characters and plots circling around in your head. But I hate having to defend myself when others don’t get that!

  3. Jae Says:

    Thank goodness this blog post ended the way it did!!! I was worried you too would give into the allure of having instant published status and enjoy selling a few copies to friends and families before dropping into the millions rank of popular books on Amazon (a negative thing in my mind, you know #6,790,341 sales rank vs. #454).

    Of course you’re still working on the book. You want it to be the best! It takes years to hone our craft. If we really want lasting success, it’s going to come from years of hard work. Think of it this way. The man who does the get thin quick diet loses his success just as quickly. Yet the man who goes jogging every day, shoves the veggies down his throat, and finally whittles his way down to his ideal weight usually retains that success.

    You want to be a successful author, which means you’re spending success filled amounts of time on it.

    Okay, enough of my cheerleading, but welcome to the “yep, we’re still working on THAT story” club. 🙂

  4. danbracewell Says:

    Interesting perspective. I’m curious as to how long you’ve been working on the story. I know some work on a story for years and I certainly don’t ding that approach. Part of me wonders, though, with all the experience you have gained over the years, if you started a new story, if it would be so much better that the first? Thanks for sharing. Its always fun and assuring to hear another’s adventures in writing land.

    • justanotherworkingwriter Says:

      You know, that’s a really interesting point you bring up. I was at a writers conference last summer and there were some amazing authors who read and discussed their books — and they ALL made a point of saying that a first book and one’s first PUBLISHED book are often not the same thing. So the important point is to figure out when to keep working on something and when to put it aside, maybe for good, maybe temporarily. (And I’ve been working on this particular book, on and off, for about four years.) Something to think about…

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