Saturday, April 11, 2015

Too legit to quit ... though I am tempted a bit

I’m not at the AWP Conference right now, where vast crowds of writers famous and unknown are gathering to talk about all things literary. I’m not even at the Local Authors Festival at our public library, where not-so-vast handfuls of writers pretty much unknown in the grand scheme of things but famous for our smallerish college town are gathering to do the same. No, I’m home, watching my neighbor try to figure out how to use his lawnmower. I guess it’s been a while since he had to do this, because the thing’s got him quite stymied. Wish I could help, but I know about as much about lawnmowers as I do about how to be a successful author.

That may sound wrong—after all, I’ve been writing all my life, I’ve had several dozen stories and essays published, and my second novel just had its debutante ball last week. And yet, writing is one of those enterprises where you never seem to reach a point of true satisfaction. When I run marathons, even if I’m having a lousy race, there’s still some satisfaction (and a whole lot of relief) when I reach the finish line. But writing? You get an idea, and it feels great for little while and then you actually have to start writing. You start writing, and it feels great for a while and then you have to finish writing. You finish writing, and it feels terrific and then you have to rewrite. And revise. And scrap a lot of it. And scrap it all. And bring it back. And revise it again. And edit it. And proofread it. And then remember to back up your files because of that one time when you didn’t and you nearly ran out into traffic screaming KILL ME NOW.

And then—well, then comes the best part, if by “best” you mean “worst.” Because then you have to try to get it published. Trying to get a book manuscript published will make you glad you didn’t decide to run out into traffic that one time because now you truly have a reason to wish for a swift and violent death.

And then when you finally decide, as I did for my second novel, to go with a small indy press whose publisher is someone you know will be as enthusiastic about your book as you are, who has a miniscule budget but a big heart, and when you see the finished product and hold it in your hands and see your friends at the launch party eagerly buying up copies and congratulating you, when all that happens you’re nearly bursting with joy but then the burstiness subsides and you realize you have to figure out how to get people who don’t already know you to buy your book … well, it feels like you’ve just entered an ultramarathon without an actual finish line. You aren’t almost there, not even close. You may never be there. Keep going anyway, chump.

I found out about the Local Authors Festival, by the way, not because I was asked to be part of it but because I went to said library hoping to entice the library people to buy my book for their collection. I had a beautiful press release printed up and a copy of the book in hand, and when I finally found the right person to talk to, she listened to my pitch and looked puzzled.

“So … are you donating a copy to the library?”

Well, no, I was kind of hoping you’d, like, buy a copy. You know, the way you do with other authors who have books? The librarian wasn’t overtly rude, but I felt like I’d just pleaded with her to put my book up on her fridge with a magnet. I wanted to scream
I AM LEGIT DAMN YOU and I wanted it to come out in Samuel L. Jackson’s voice. I wanted to assure her that I was not some idiot who had written a piece-of-shit fan fiction novel with barely a readable sentence—but then maybe I should have. After all, they have that book.

As someone constantly accused of having low self-esteem and a bad attitude, I rather unwisely have chosen two passions that are endless excursions in disappointment. My running hasn’t been going so well either, and after my 20-mile slog last weekend, my goals have gone from Boston Qualifier to Sub-4 to Barely-a-PR to Aw-Hell-I’m-Just-Gonna-Enjoy-This-One. That at least is one advantage running has over writing: I don’t necessarily need to have lofty goals when I run, since even my loftiest goals there are still entirely about personal satisfaction. But writing is different. I write because I want to and because I enjoy it, but also because I want my stuff to be read, and that means I have to take it farther, as far as I can, no stopping, no quitting, red wine or black coffee in my writerly Nathan Pack, trudging wearily toward a finish line I can’t ever see.

The good news is I got a great idea for Book 4. You won’t believe what happens to my heroine. The series continues—so I guess I must as well.


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