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.