Monday, April 20, 2009
The Countdown Begins (No, not to Star Trek...)
Well, it’s happening: in a matter of days I’ll be able to walk into a bookstore and see The Red Wolf Conspiracy on the shelf. How do you feel, what are you thinking? asked a friend last night. The answer turns out to be complex.
First, extraordinarily lucky. Nobody with home, health, a loving family and a three-striped Florida mud turtle should feel otherwise, in my humble opinion. On top of that I have the good fortune to be doing something that I deeply love each day: namely writing. And on top of that I have readers -- extraordinary, thoughtful, challenging readers. None of us merit our fortune, good or bad. I am a lucky dog.
More interesting to some, however, may be the fact that I am shredded. Don't take this as a complaint, but rather as field notes. I am currently doing promotional work for Book I, editing Book II for the last time, and furiously writing Book III. To any of these tasks I could easily devote all my waking hours, and still feel behind. The attempt to do all three well and simultaneously has given new meaning to Master Bilbo’s self-characterization as butter scraped over too much bread.
I switch on the computer in the morning before I've properly opened my eyes. I feel guilty about stopping work long enough to look for clean socks. I have an appearance of outward calm that is almost somnambulistic, but my insides are a haphazardly stuffed cavern of poorly processed anxieties. I crave caffeine; I drink it, and my stomach goes haywire. When I switch off the light at night, the list of tasks I haven't attended to descends like a swarm.
This amuses me most of the time. The aforementioned blessings make it easy to laugh at the absurd. I get a particular chuckle when I think of the skills I've never developed. Take speed. During my fourteen years in the wilderness, when fiction writing was what I most cared about and least succeeded in, one thing I always had was time. Nobody on earth was in a hurry to receive my fiction! I wrote with slow, elegant abandon. A day spent on three sentences brought no frustration, only a deep sense of my own integrity.
All changed, changed utterly, as the poet says. But isn't this what I was working for all along?
Yes. No. Unfair question!
These conundrums dependably throw me back upon a chance encounter I had with a multimillion-bestseller author who shall remain nameless. I had not been long in the wilderness. He had. And over the course of an evening, alongside some good West Virginia cooking, he digested the not-so-startling news that I planned to devote my life to fiction. I think now that he spent hours trying to come up with some advice for me. But when at last he began to speak, he merely explained that for a decade, while working other jobs, he had faithfully put his novel manuscript in one cardboard box after another, dispatched it to some agency or publisher, and waited for the rejection. In the latter he was never disappointed. He repeated the ritual 43 times and had long since stopped mentioning it to friends. Not one of those 43 rounds of submissions gave him the least reason to hope. And the 44th made him a household name.
As he got up to leave the table, he put out his hand, and we shook. “Write ‘cause it’s fun,” he said, and walked away.
That's what I do, and it never lets me down. When you invest in your own delight, you're guaranteed returns. It’s the one thrill of the writing life on which you can absolutely depend.