I am making painfully slow, tortured progress on my novel. I still feel it's good, but my confidence in what other people think of my work is so badly shaken that I vacillate between feeling that I have a decent shot at actually selling this book and total, complete despair -- my other novels didn't sell; why should this one? I realize that kind of thinking will only inhibit progress, but "just think positive" is easier said than done.
I see blog posts and facebook posts and forum posts from friends and acquaintances and clients of my former agent and my current agent, all celebrating their sales, the releases of their books, cool new cover art, good reviews. All these published authors. And I am still not one of them.
A couple of people who have read my work in progress were enthusiastic about it; the rest, who far outnumber the enthusiastic two, never said anything at all about it. As already noted, this bothers me. Enough has already been said about that. I guess I should think positive: the people who I can be sure actually bothered to read the manuscript really, really liked it a lot. Maybe the others aren't giving me radar silence because they thought it was not even worthy of mention, but because they just never could be bothered to read it. Maybe if they had actually read it, they'd have liked it. That's an oddly comforting thought.
Regardless, in the face of this feeling that I am not good enough to be among the published, it's hard to keep working. I can go for days and days without even opening the document; I just have no desire for it. I don't see the point. I feel certain that it's futile to write. Then I will finally force myself to work on the book. I'll force myself, and it will be miserable torture just to type a few words.
I'll write a couple hundred words and then read back over the last thousand words or so. And you know, in spite of the misery of turning writing into a chore, I genuinely like what I've written. I enjoy the prose. I think the plot and characters are interesting enough. I'm really proud of the work. So why can't I keep working on it with real focus?
I used to write 2000 words a day or more. I finished a 110,000-word novel in three months. But I can't seem to make any real progress at all on this book. I mean, I've now been working on Baptism for the Dead since April 2010. True, it's gone through a few total revisions of structure and plot, but still -- I'm at 30,000 words and that's the highest word count I've achieved with any incarnation of the book.
I had an email conversation recently with a friend who is also a writer. We talked about the various motivations for writing, what it must be like to produce entertaining work that is easily sold, easily read, easily consumed. Enjoyable, probably. Fun. Hard work, but fun work, like when I was working as a zoo keeper. I wish it was fun for me to write. I wish I was writing something I could be relatively sure would sell. I wish I was working on something that the industry professionals I know seem to be actually interested in. I have no idea where this book will go, if anywhere. That's not fun. And all that un-fun-ness makes me have to force my own writing at knife-point. I'm shocked that I like what I write so well, considering it's all flogged out of me. None of it is coming easily. None of it is enjoyable to produce.
My friend and I also talked about what we want our respective books to mean to readers, and that conversation is helping me keep things somewhat in perspective.
I'll be honest, no matter how unpalatable it may make me seem to other writers, many of whom I love dearly and consider to be good friends. I am in the midst of a months-long writing crisis here, and I need to be frank with myself and with the world if I'm going to stay focused enough to stab out my meager couple hundred words per week. So here is all my ugly honesty, hanging out all pink and naked, for you to jeer at or despise me for if you want to, O Writing World: I don't want a small contract with an e-publisher. Not for Baptism for the Dead. I think this book deserves something stronger and more substantial. I don't want to be with an independent press, unless it's one that has a reputation for publishing really high-quality work. I don't want to be a flash in the pan. I want my writing to really mean something to the world. I want a big, sturdy contract. I want a well-respected editor. I want a publicity budget that will allow me to have a reliable career, finally, after fifteen years of working at shit jobs to support my writing habit. I want my writing habit to support me. I want to make money. I want to be respected. I want the world to know who I am. I want to be longlisted for awards. I want to be shortlisted. I want to win awards. I want reviews from reviewers with clout.
I want to create something that is really, truly worthy of respect and awards and reviews.
And I don't much care what other writers think of me for wanting these things.
These are my goals. This is the end result that will make me happy. These are not the goals of every writer. Many writers will look down on me or feel I'm looking down on them because I have these particular desires.
But I can't worry about that. If I don't stay focused on my goals, I will be overwhelmed by the sadness of not being the writer who's selling ten books a year, of not being the writer whose book is coming out next spring. I will hate myself for being the client who was passed along to somebody else because she no longer fit the list. I will hate my prose, my own creation, because it's not commercial enough to give me the instant gratification half of my heart wants.
I need to listen to the other half. It's the half that agrees with the aforementioned friend, who summed up our whole conversation so precisely when he said that some literature is like a one-night stand. It's fun, it's good, it should be indulged in. But some literature is like a soul-shattering love affair, and it haunts you and makes you long for it years and years later, when you should be over it, when you should have forgotten it and moved on.
I want to publish the love affair. That's my goal. I'm not going for a one-night stand here. I've had enough of those in my lifetime. I know, because it's happened to me, that real deep, striking love affairs that haunt you forever are entirely dependent on chemistry, and nobody can predict chemistry, or make it by design. I have to keep telling myself that my unique prose just hasn't found its chemical match yet out there in the world of professional publishing. It's been brushing up against a few pros, but they're cold to its signals. No blame there. Chemistry can't be commanded and it can't be begged. I have to keep going, because my book's lover is out there somewhere, and when they meet, my goal will be a foregone conclusion. I will have what I want. But I have to be patient and persistent. I have to remember what my goal is, and not be tempted by other people's goals.
Think I'm an egomaniac all you want. I'm cool with it. Whatever keeps me writing, even a couple hundred words a week, I'm cool with.