This thought crossed my mind the other day, and it stopped me dead in my tracks with it’s simplicity. It’s a good question – I set out with a goal of finishing a novel, and did it. Great. Then I set out with the goal of getting it published, and, well, um…
What I’ve discovered is, I’m not sure getting published is really the only goal, or if it’s healthy to even think like that. Maybe getting published is partially the result of writing great stories, and so great stories should be my goal instead. But even if I do get published some day, it’s more than likely to take years, and I certainly have to be more like a turtle than a hare to win that race.
So, it’s a long road ahead of me. Fine, okay, I need something to dread to get out of bed in the morning anyway. But then I heard another question, because peace of mind isn’t for me:
How am I going to keep this up?
To that, I didn’t have an answer. I didn’t, and don’t, know if I can keep it up, and there ain’t no guarantees anything will ever come of it anyway. With that thought, it was easy to fall into a funk. Which is exactly what I did.
So off to the coffee shop I went.
And whether you believe in fate or God or serendipity or even if you believe in nothing, the funniest thing happened. I randomly met another writer there, and we ended up talking. I expected to hear how great his life was – he’s got an agent, he’s got a book deal, his first novel is coming out soon. But what I heard instead was something familiar: fear, angst, worry. What if his book doesn’t sell? What if his book DOES sell? Then what?
I related to him how I was feeling, stuck, not sure where to go. He nodded and told me the story of a writer friend who, having run out of money, was forced to move into the basement of his parent’s house. Six months later, he ended up with a book deal. He referred to those moments, those dark hours, as “the belly of the whale,” that all writers (and I would say, all people) go through at one point or another.
A couple hours after this conversation, I couldn’t believe how much better I still felt, even though my situation hadn’t changed. And then I was reading John Gardner’s On Becoming A Novelist, and came across the following:
“[The writer] recognizes that the success he hopes for will take work. What a writer in this gloomy situation needs is a community that values what he values, that believes it is better to be a good writer than a politician or scientist … what keeps the young writer with the potential for success from turning to some more generally approved or easier path is his writing community.”
And I thought, that’s it. That’s what keeps you in it – surrounding yourself with people going through the same thing you are, whether it’s the pursuit of painting, acting, running, an MBA, whatever. So you don’t give in, don’t give up. Because you are going to need their help to make it to the end of that marathon.
John Gardner had one more thing to say about all this, and I would say applicable to all of us: “The truth is, the writing community saves the writer. It is partly made up of fools, young innocents…and party made up of maniacs.”
Ain’t that the truth.