Tomorrow is my birthday. I’m not too hung up on age, or shape, or the color of my hair. But there’s not a whole lot of literary happy in the celebration, because it marks yet another 365 days when I haven’t reached my publishing goals. I have a vision of me in a few years (eons, centuries, millennia?), pushing a walker with a canvas bag attached to the handle, loaded with my books to peddle. While I mutter around my clicking false teeth, “Want a nice young adult novel, Sonny?”
Sure, Grandma Moses painted masterpieces at the age of 78. Harry Bernstein came out of obscurity at 96 with his memoir. And Laura Ingalls Wilder published her first Little House book at the age of 65. These facts do nothing to soothe my writer’s ego that has been bruised, abused, and kicked to the curb for way too long.
I have ample proof that I write well. I am agented and have been. My work has been sold to major publishing houses. And I’m doing this blog. But my first YA trilogy ended up cancelled, and my MG series got canned twice. With each Machiavellian maneuver time passed, and I got older. But not as old as I’ll be in the morning.
What to do, what to do?
Believe me, I have answered that question more than once with a resounding, “I quit.” Followed by rants to all my writer friends that include: My life is too busy to write. The publishing industry sucks. I’m too old to care about it anymore. It’s an unethical business. I don’t need all that drama. Only celebrities get published.
Then a non-writer family member or friend will ask the question that makes me cringe: “Did you get anything published…yet?” At which time I repeat the above rant, give an elaborate shrug, and make plans to go out for lunch because, after all, I don’t have to sit at a stupid computer all day writing words that no one will ever read and I don’t have to care about run-on sentences or punctuation or grammar or plot or flow...
It is at this point someone invariably says, “Well, it’s a nice hobby, but you can always take up knitting.”
“Knitting? Me? I’m a freaking WRITER, Dude. Pre-published, but still.”
What to do, what to do?
At this birthday juncture, I again ask myself this question, coupled with: What is my real goal? Is it worth keeping on? What if I never publish? How old is too old? Does everyone think I’m a loser or worse, a bad writer? Will my son have to go to school one more year saying he knows a real author when I continue to only be a writer? On my deathbed will I sob over the words leftover and lonely on my computer?
So I quit. Sort of. Kind of. In a way.
Are you sensing some ambivalence here? There’s no way to quit breathing—except for the deathbed thing—and in the same manner, there’s no way to stop writing. Writers write, just like farmers farm, lovers love, doctors doctor. Every time I decide to forego my SCBWI dues, skip conferences and retreats, and use my laptop for Pinterest patrol, a new idea leeches from my DNA into my consciousness. And I am unable to shut off the water main break in my brain.
What to do, what to do?
It’s simple, really. Just not easy. Writing is not to be confused with publishing. Both are admirable endeavors. A story isn’t necessarily better because someone deemed it worthy of being printed, although that’s what most of us believe. Instead, we need to believe in ourselves, in our imaginations, and in our worth. Writers are notorious for low literary self-esteem, mainly because publishing has become the benchmark of what is good. But if you’ve read some of the books out there lately, you already know this isn’t always true.
It’s demoralizing, year after year, to be this close—and yet not grab the prize. Or has the prize been with me all along? After reflecting on this somewhat absurd thought, I’ve come to realize a little reframing is in order.
My goal, if I dig deep enough, is to take the ideas that bombard me and put them into a coherent story. I tend towards plots with some type of social awareness; I have picture books, middle grade, and young adult works that resound. My heart is on those virtual pages, and with it I’ve grown in so many ways.
I’ve grown in pants size because I like to eat while I write, but that’s not exactly where this is headed. With each new saga, my craft improves. Language, grammar, punctuation, flow, plot—so much better than when I began. I’m a better writer. Every avenue I explore through research teaches me more about the world we live in—and the world inside of me. I’m a better person. And the near misses with publishers are educating me about the business end of things. I’m a better entrepreneur.
Do I want to be an author? Oh, yes. Am I content to be a writer? Not really, but maybe that will nudge me to keep on keeping on. By doing so I may get published. And if not, I’ve got the joy of knowing how to produce excellence in a pursuit that is so much a part of me. Sure, I could try knitting, or sky diving, or ballroom dancing. But they’re things to do, hobbies if you will.
Writing is who I am. And having discovered my core identity, haven’t I reached a meaningful goal after all? I’m gonna snuff those freaking candles with a vengeance tomorrow. Happy birthday to me!