I started writing in earnest about twelve years ago. Before that, I dabbled in short stories and poetry. But I didn’t start writing for publication until around the year 2000-ish. I’ve got over 700,000 words under my belt –300k words short of my “magic million.” I’ve been through acceptances. I’ve been through rejections. I’ve been through agents. I’m close. Really close. I tell you this so you’ll know I didn’t undertake writing six months ago to “nurture my inner muse” or to “get rich” off the self-publishing boom. (As I write this, my laughter is loud enough to strip the wallpaper.)
Yet here’s the heartbreaking reality: the closer I come to success, the faster it moves from my grasp. I’m trapped in the ever-expanding hallway dream, with the Door of Triumph spiraling farther and farther away.
Six or seven years ago, before Everything Changed, I’d roll out of bed to eagerly work on my latest project. I’d learned enough to be confident, but hadn’t learned so much that I’d lost my optimism. Haven’t most of us lingered at that threshold of wonder–whether you’re a writer or an accountant or both–and marveled at each new experience?
Then months go by. Years go by. The “Threshold of Wonder” becomes the “Threshold of Wonder Why I’m Doing This.” You do a little soul-searching. You decide to keep going. At least, that’s what I did.
If, like me, you’re lucky enough to move ahead by selling a project or scoring an agent, the drama is only beginning. Rewrites and more rewrites. The anxiety goes up. The opinions fly. You become so focused on salable writing that you begin to question everything: POV, voice, plot choices, freaking commas… At this point, you’ll do anything to keep that ride going. You’ve waited so long to step on. Don’t get me wrong. This experience can be a lot of fun. But the writing itself becomes fraught with second-guessing.
If you end up self-publishing, whether your primary or secondary career strategy, I don’t even have to tell you the angst that comes from watching your ranking or sales numbers. You already know it. Or the worry that comes with wondering if different genres pay better or if you can write that next book fast enough before people forget you or if you should’ve given your book a sexier title…and on and on. Bottom line: if you’re a self-publisher, you have to think like a publisher, and that means, to some extent, treating your books like commodities. If one doesn’t sell, write another, keep marketing, keep slinging. I have to be honest; it chips away at the creative experience.
If you ever become an “overnight success,” I have a feeling new problems wait beyond the door at the end of the hallway. I’m sure the pressure to repeat is enormous (though many of us would be willing to suffer through it!), and makes writing the next masterpiece that much harder. Expectation is a bitch.
If, if, if.
And so I turn back to outlining my next project. Could be a winner. Might hit the “right notes” with readers. Will, at least, give me something to do on this cold, grey morning besides stare at the wall.
What’s the answer? Like what you do? Yes, most surely. Write with abandon, as if no one’s watching? Absolutely. But some days, it’s harder than others. Like today.
Your turn. Ever been stuck in the doldrums of writing? What did you do to pull yourself out of the quagmire?