The other morning I flopped down onto the bed, slightly weepy, and declared myself exhausted by the epic level of work I’ve done to get my fiction writing published.
I’ve been querying the novel I just finished—Geist—hard for the last six weeks. This is the rejection phase, one I’ve been through before with another novel that remains on the shelf. It is where I suspect most writers toss themselves on a bed in the midst of a defeatest declaration.
Sticking your writing out there for people to love or hate is glorious and absolutely gut-wrenching. On the one hand, you have birthed a story into the world, and that is a stunning accomplishment. On the other hand, you want other people to love it as much as you do, and you have no control over that portion of the writer’s life.
I liken the level of anxiety at this stage to a moment years ago, when I started out as a journalist. The City Editor at the daily I worked at in Colorado Springs had a wall of shame where he posted all of the worst writing he ever received. It was cruel, utterly heartless, and incredible in its level of instruction.
“Read it all. Memorize what is garbage,” he told me. “Then, make sure you are good enough to never make it onto anyone’s wall of shame.”
So, I worry.
My husband knows the routine. Twice a year or so I break down, sure I have wasted my life after I abandoned the newsroom pursuing a foolish dream that judgy family members and people who don’t believe in dreaming told me years ago to leave in the land of artists.
There was a point in our relationship where he might have laid there and rubbed my head, let me cry, possibly placated me with something trite about how my time will come. That day he was done with this version of me.
“What are you going to do?” he said. “Cut off your arm?”
I considered developing an irritation to his curt response, choosing silence in order to avoid my semi-annual self-pity being interrupted by a rationalist.
“Being a writer is who you are,” he continued. “Get up and go do what you have to do.”
“But, what if I’m not good enough?”
“Then go get better.”
He really is annoying, and correct. Despite any other way of being I’ve tried, the only thing that wakes me up in the morning and keeps me up at night is storytelling. I could get a thousand rejections and write a thousand novels and still want to send one more query or write one more story.
I’m humbled by those further along the writing journey than I, honored to guide the young authors who are just beginning theirs. I see the spark of story in people who didn’t think they had it in them. I know it in myself when a moment, a scene, a realization that comes through birthing tales into the world brings me to tears.
Last night, I opened up my e-mail at 11 p.m. to find a note from an agent requesting a partial for Geist. It may not end up resonating with her, but I made it through a giant pile of queries and sparked enough interest for her to ask for it over the long weekend.
Yet, I still asked myself am I good enough?
It’s the question I’m going to stop manipulating myself with any more—not because I’ve grown arrogant or consider myself a superstar. I’m going to stop making that inquiry of myself because it doesn’t matter.
I will write today.
I will write tomorrow.
I will revise and edit and fret and go back three more times to do the same thing.
I will miss the mark, or nail a scene.
I will teach Grade 4 writers a technique to craft their stories and then forget to use it when crafting my own.
I will fall in love with characters. I will scrap novels. I will build amazing worlds.
I will stick my work out in the public eye for some to love, some to hate—all guaranteed to make me ache.
I will flop down on the bed at least once more this year and wonder how I will ever make it.
That’s what it takes.