(…continued from last week…)
So, if I used to be one of those writers driven more by validation than by love of story, what changed?
I’m glad you asked. 🙂
It was easy to recognize the pride and impatience in others. One critique partner expressed to me that he “didn’t have time to write a bunch of novels” while waiting around to be published, but he was pretty sure if he played the writing craft just right, editors would be falling over themselves to contract his work. Annoyance pinged inside me. Was this guy even a real writer, if he didn’t enjoy the creative process enough to just do it, regardless?
Not long after, I had an opportunity with my first novel, which I was sure was ready after going through—no exaggeration—about twenty drafts in as many years. (Told you I’d been doing this a LONG time.) The writing was decent enough to catch the eye of a few published authors, and one offered to recommend me to her editor at a large, well-known publisher.
Things were clicking along, and then … boom. Something came up, and the author could no longer offer the recommendation. Since the issue wasn’t something I could readily change, I had to figure out how to gracefully surrender to the fact that this thing I’d hoped for wasn’t going to happen.
And I came face to face with just how deeply I was motivated by the craving to be published. For the validation that would come with seeing my work in print.
In the weeks and months that followed, surrender is the word I heard most often. Surrender to the process, to really digging in and learning the writing craft. Surrender to … God’s timing, whatever that would be. “Writing is a journey,” someone said, and the thought stung. But deep inside me, I knew I had to surrender to that journey.
More disappointments followed. Over the next six years or so, I wrote four more novels, in three different genres. Realized how NOT ready for publication I was, as my writing grew and changed. I wrote a bit of flash fiction and learned new things about condensing a story. Lost critique partners, gained critique partners, entered contests, cried over feedback (good and bad), learned to pick myself up and move on.
I learned to surrender to the process.
Did I get tired? Oh yeah. By the end of this summer, I’d finished my seventh novel-length manuscript and decided to attend just one more writer’s conference. Though grateful for the chance to get my work in front of real, live editors, I prepared myself to shoulder yet more disappointment. If a door didn’t open to being traditionally published, I decided I’d hang it up and go back to quietly writing for myself and my family. This time, however, I was at peace with that prospect. I wouldn’t be giving up on writing, just changing my focus.
The decision didn’t come without some mixed hope. At the encouragement of one of my published friends, I’d submitted a historical romance novella proposal to an editor I met at last year’s conference, and there was a possibility, however slight, that I’d be chosen for one of the first-time author contracts she was fond of giving out each year. But I tucked that hope away and prayed just to get through the opening session (where those contracts were given out) so I could get on with the rest of the conference.
Imagine my shock—and elation—when the title of my story, followed by my name, was announced as the recipient of that contract.
In that moment, my world was transformed. Thirty-plus years of work since I’d started my first novel suddenly seemed worth it. Almost ten since coming back to writing with the aim of getting published. Seven conferences, seven manuscripts—and oh, the irony that the first story I’d sell is one I haven’t written yet!
So, have I arrived? Not by a long shot. This is just the first step on a new stage of the journey. And honestly, if I never get another contract, it won’t change the fact that I’m a writer. The validation for that, for me, comes in the joy of spinning story, of putting words to paper (or screen, as the case might be). Easy for me to say? Possibly. And do I think everyone has to come to this point before they should or can be published? Not necessarily. But I believe every writer has to choose whether they’re in it for the long haul, come what may.
So I ask again: why do you write?
Are you committed to the journey?