Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A Very Honest Writing Update

A note: I'm bad at being honest. I don't mean that I'm a compulsive liar or anything--I just like to be positive and put-together and presentable--and sometimes being honest tears down the perfection facade a little. Or a lot. So bear with me on my attempt at frankness...

I need to be honest for a minute about writing. You'll notice it's been absent from discussion here for a while. It's not an accident. I decided, instead of "NaNoWriMo" I would do "NoWriteNovember" (I made that up) and take a step back to evaluate where I am and what I'm doing.

I figured it out.

I've been running scared when it comes to writing lately.

I'm still in the midst of querying, still have a couple fulls out. But the longer that goes, the more my stamina starts to wane. I'll admit that. I'll also admit that I see the prospects drying up the longer a full stays out, or the longer my "rejected" list on the agent database gets. There's some pragmatism there as well as emotional reaction--the options narrow. The more "no"s you get, the fewer chances at a "yes."

So I start to think about what to do next.

I don't mean what to do next in terms of writing--after enforcing a strict "NoWriteNovember" to see how I do without writing, I know it's part of what makes me happy. I'm just not sure if the rat race of publication makes me happy. Well, I know it doesn't in this stage--the unpublished stage. And I think I know why.

I'm an overachiever.

I always have been. I can't do partway, I can't try and fail, I have to succeed. And writing is a business in which success and effort, success and talent, success and perseverance do not necessarily go hand in hand. No doubt they're correlated--talented, diligent, hardworking people succeed more often than lazybones who write sludge. But--no guarantees.

And as an overachiever, I'm a control freak.

I can't control this. Not all the way. I can do the absolute best I can. I can edit and polish and hone. I can be type-A fantastic on my query process and uber-professional and do everything "right" but in the end--it's out of my control. Agents can hate my book. Agents can LOVE my book but feel they can't sell it. Agents can love my book, sign my book, and still be unable to sell it.

What does this come down to? The uncertainty of success in traditional publishing is at odds with one thing above all others with me--my pride. I can't stomach the idea of "failing" at something I think I'm good at. And I define success at ever-increasing increments with less and less that I can control.

Whew--it felt good to say that. To admit that this is MY problem--my pride.

So now that I've confronted all of that, I come back to the question--does writing for publication make me happy?

I think about the alternative--writing with no intention to publish. I do that, too, you know--I write embarrassingly bad poetry just for the joy of stringing words together like so many jewel-colored beads (see why the poetry is bad?). But novels? Novels are meant to be shared. Like pie. Or a layer cake. They're too big to make and keep for yourself without inducing stomachache or tooth decay.

And then I found something I wrote down ages ago, when I first started writing my first novel.

I want to write someone's favorite book.

Just one person. That was my goal--write a book that one person would say, even for just a while, "This is one of my favorite books."


Puts the whole thing in perspective.

Next steps? I have no idea--the thought of publishing independently is creeping up for me more and more. I'm weaning myself away from the idea that self-publishing is "giving up"--it's not surrender to take a different road that will gain your goal. At the same time, I fear permanent, unalterable choices--and taking the self-publishing road means making a permanent mark on a potential career, for good or for bad.

So for now I'll be thinking. And writing again, now that NoWriteNovember is over beginning tomorrow.

And that feels good.

OK, now to actually clicking the "Publish Post" button and take all this honesty live....why is that the hardest part? :P


Brooke Johnson said...

I went through a similar process. I hated the waiting, the lack of control, the guessing. And it just wasn't worth it to me. I'm an over-achiever too, and I hate to lose. The fact that I couldn't work hard and get published ate away at me. I thought I wasn't good enough. But that's wasn't true. I am good enough, and the day that I realized that and that self-publishing was not defeat, I felt like a winner, like I had figured something out that would change the future of my career forever.

So I'm self-publishing, and I have no regrets.

Good luck to you and your path to publication. The goal you have is a great one, almost identical to mine. And I've already achieved that. Several people have told me that they loved my book. I couldn't ask for more.

Carrie C said...

Rowena, congratulations on your honesty, especially with yourself. That's huge!

I think a lot of people feel similarly. Even published writers ... You have probably read these but just in case, I'll recommend Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird and Betsy Lerner's Forest for the Trees. Both wonderful books and full of good reminders on how to keep yourself sane.

Don't feel too rushed to decide about self-publishing. You are young and have a long time to figure out what the best path is. I'm sure whatever you decide will be great - but just try not to let a need for affirmation push you into something (whether self-publishing or querying) too soon. You're an excellent writer and you'll find your audience eventually, one way or another!

Rowenna said...

Thanks so much to both of you! I'm definitely not making decisions yet--just coming to a place where I want to be more honest with myself about the motivations behind my goals.

V.R. Christensen said...

I love this, Rowenna. You're exactly where I was a year or so ago. Just exactly. I appreciate that honesty, and those are some tough questions to ask yourself. Because, quite honestly, to us writers, a big six name behind our work is the stamp of approval. Readers only care that it's quality (though I find modern readers like shorter works, which is bad for me.) Like you, I wanted to write someone's favourite book. I wrote exactly what I would most want to read, and I wanted it to resonate with someone, even if it was only one or two (or maybe a few hundred) people. I have to keep reminding myself that I didn't write a runaway bestseller, but something that was important to me, and that, maybe, might resonate with someone else, and give them courage, or inspiration, or just help them to feel understood. I'm rambling now. I loved this post, Rowenna.