I’m not great at following any blogs–truth–because most days I’m running around like that proverbial chicken trying to squeeze everything in, but I do hop in and read several when I can make the time, and I’m always glad to do it. One I really love is Meghan Ward’s Writerland. She’s also a Bay Area writer, and the author of a memoir, and she’s got a great following and a great-looking blog (Meserve New Year’s resolution: update your look, babe!).
Her latest post on Writerland asks the question, “What is success?” and, well, it resonated with me. On many levels.
So you should read it. In case it resonates with you, too. Meghan’s asking for folks to make comments; go for it!
In the movies, when someone finishes writing a book, it’s with a huge fanfare. The camera pans in on an index finger explosively hitting the last key, then the writer throws back the chair and throws his hands up in the air. Finally! Music plays. Success.
In real life, it doesn’t happen like that.
Yesterday, I had a great writing day. Mostly I was proofing, but I also wrote a few new paragraphs and moved some things around. I did a quick scan for the changes I’d made. Then it was time to get L. from school, so I put the computer down and went into dealing-with-tired-preschooler-mode. A couple of hours later, exhausted, my forehead in knots from having stared at the computer for eight long hours, I walked to get sushi with some friends. Halfway there I stopped in the middle of the sidewalk and cocked my head to the side.
Holy cow, I thought. I just finished my book.
Image from mpclemens, whom you can find on flickr
Actually, that’s the elevator pitch version. Here’s the whole story:
1. Three falls ago (three!), I thought I had finished my book. I sent a completed manuscript to a friend’s agent. She said no thanks, and her explanation of why made me realize there was a problem with the way I’d written the story. Back to the desk.
2. That following summer, I tried again. There was some interest, but no one fell in love with it. One agent told me, “I think you need to dig deeper.” I decided I agreed.
3. I dug deeper.
4. I gave the manuscript to my writing group (again).
5. Thanks to their feedback, I wrote a prologue. I also changed the title.
6. I tinkered for another six months.
7. Yesterday, I had a great writing day. Mostly I was proofing, but I also wrote a few new paragraphs and moved some things around. I did a quick scan for the changes I’d made. Then it was time to get L. from school, so I put the computer down and went into dealing-with-tired-preschooler-mode. A couple of hours later, exhausted, my forehead in knots from having stared at the computer all morning, I walked to get sushi with some friends. Halfway there I stopped in the middle of the sidewalk and cocked my head to the side.
Holy cow, I thought. I just finished my book. Then I had a beer with dinner.
Part of me wanted some fanfare, I must admit. I kind of wanted to slam my finger onto the last key, give a giant whoop, and pop a bottle of champagne. Instead I’m sitting in a coffee shop drinking a cup of joe and thinking I should probably give it another proofread before I send it out. It’s a little anticlimactic, but honestly, I’m not sure it could be any other way.
I went to a wonderful workshop over the weekend. It had nothing to do with writing, besides the fact that we journaled twice. It was, cue the didgeridoo and the candles, a workshop about getting over birth trauma. At one point we were asked to think of a power that we have. Some women chose capability, or strength; I chose resilience.
Ducks on a frozen pond, Vigelands Park, Oslo, Norway
I’ve been thinking about that a lot. I chose resilience because in the context of my son’s birth the prevailing feeling is one of having bounced back, robustly, from the most difficult experience of my life. For a minute, after I chose “resilience,” I second-guessed myself: am I resilient? Really? And decided that yes, I was, and am.
When I gave birth to L things got very dark and very scary very quickly, but by the time I was being sewn up I was joking with the doctor about “the husband stitch” (I know, it’s sick) and the next day, bruised and exhausted, I was nonetheless myself again.
I’ve been thinking about resilience in a writer’s context, too. Don’t kid yourselves, people: this work can be really thankless. You can work at something for years and never get it published. You can feel amazingly accomplished one day, and the next, you suck. But if, like me, you choose to have faith in the process, you get back on the horse and keep writing, even when you’re incredibly discouraged. You choose resilience.
Last week I emailed a writer friend I hadn’t seen in a while. Sadly, she told me that she’s not doing very well. “I’m enraged with myself that I have been writing for ten years with very little to show for it,” she said. I had one of those moments when I thought, okay, I can relate; but I can’t get too far into this discussion or I will start to take that on myself. I just can’t count the years. I mean, I do, all the time; but really, it’s counterproductive. Sometimes I wonder whether my family and friends think I’ll never amount to anything, because I haven’t yet, right? And I have to gently tell that voice to shut up.
Maybe, in another ten years, if I’m still chipping away at a memoir and playing with poetry and trying to publish a couple of short stories–and none of it is going well–I will throw in the towel and go get a degree in art therapy or social work. But for now, I’m choosing to bounce back.
Check out Karen McHeggs’s latest over on popcorn, Establishing a Writing Habit. It’s a good reminder that the most important thing–in life, really!–is just showing up.
A colleague told me she belongs to a monthly drinking-and-submitting group. Someone hosts and serves up a bunch of booze; all the writers in attendance spend the evening submitting their work to magazines.
I thought that sounded ingenious. It’s so hard to find the time not only to write and revise, but to try to get your work out there. Why not get drunk and mail?
This fall, as part of a series of small resolutions, I decided that every Thursday would be a sending-out day. I figured, you know, my numbers have actually not been too bad. Over the years I’ve had some publishing successes without too onerously exerting myself. Sure, I have a giant folder of rejections somewhere and a much smaller folder of acceptances, but I also only sent my chapbook to four or five places before it got picked up, and in 2011 the only poem I sent out got published. So I figured, if I increased my yearly submissions to 52 (one per week), maybe I’d hit a ten percent success rate.
Well, to date I’m at zero percent, but it’s early days yet. I’d also be lying if I said I actually send out every Thursday. What I tend to do is pile up the weeks and then send, say, three submissions in one week. Researching places to submit, preparing files, deciding what work is ready–it all takes a lot of time. And of course, by sending out so much work, you not only open yourself to success but to the inevitable rejections (52 of them? Let’s hope not).
Do you have a system for sending out work, readers?
I'm working from the premise that motherhood is not just all diapers, tantrums, and setting limits. It's interesting. Okay, sometimes.