I’m at a coffee shop (okay, it’s a Panera, because #suburbs) with my husband right now, writing. We have a couple hours until Cian needs to be picked up from preschool, and I often get more work done on these time-crunch work dates than I do any other time. Today, though, is a bit different. I feel free, and a little sad, and sort of refreshed (that last part just could be because I’m showered and out in public and have a second cup of coffee in my bloodstream, but I’ll take it). See, here’s the thing:
My second book–the one I called A Version of Lucky, which was about a female friendship gone bad, layered against a fledgling, then flourishing, food truck business, and set against the backdrop of downtown Baltimore–isn’t selling. Which means that no publisher to whom it’s been pitched has offered to buy it.
The news isn’t unexpected, nor am I all that dismayed, really. Well, let’s back up–in all honesty, I spent a lot of yesterday moping around, occasionally having a random weep, but that’s how I deal with a setback: I cry for 24 hours, and then it’s back to business, though usually a little pissier and a lot more focused than I was before. I will say that I went down to our basement to work out in our little home gym after I got the news and was such a she-Hulk of angry sad-power that I fully expected to have bodybuilder shoulders today.
I checked. I still have my normal tiny non-muscly Leah shoulders. I should probably reeavaulate my expectations.
Here’s the thing–publishing is hard. Like, hard hard hard. (Even harder than shoulder exercises.) There are so many factors at stake that are or aren’t out of a writer’s control. In my case:
- The middle of my story was a little muddling (is that a word? Should it be?) and my main character needed some development. These are issues that, while totally fixable, needed to have been revised before the book was submitted to potential publishers (or at the very least, caught after the initial feedback and revised before continuing the process). It simply wasn’t ready.
- In the very recent past, I’ve taken too long to write. Actually, as David tells me: once I actually write, I can pop out a book in less time it took me to birth my first child (32 hours, with the help of a doctor eventually cutting me open because I told you publishing is COMPLICATED). It’s just that, in these past few years, getting to the point where I actually threw myself into a story took, well, forever. This was largely due to absolute sleep deprivation (looking at you, dear Cian and Quinn) and trying to manage life with three tiny children while David traveled and worked long hours, yes. But to keep on the path that my first book deal laid out for me, I should’ve had a new book ready to sell as soon as All the Difference came out, and I should’ve had a third book ready to go once my agent submitted Book #2. I’m not making this up: just look at authors like Mary Kubica or Kerry Lonsdale or Jodi Picoult, who seem to come out with a new book just as you’ve finished their last ones. See, if your opportunity is a bus waiting to take you to the next stop, you can’t just sit there and stare at it while it idles at the curb. So, now that my life is shifting into a less child-consumed, more sleep-filled season, I’m kind of running after the bus I really want to take just as it’s pulling out of the station. It’s time to write, consistently now, all the while trusting that my legs are strong enough to help me catch up.
- The publishing market isn’t as open to women’s fiction as it was three years ago. If I am correct (and I’m rarely not), it’s thrillers and memoirs and self-help and dark stories that are getting the contracts now. A Version of Lucky was the same genre and style as All the Difference (though with way fewer music references and lots less navel-gazing protagonist introspection), so it makes sense that my kind of book is not what readers might want right now. It’s a little tough to work so hard and long on something that is suddenly not in vogue, but it’s like any creative work, I guess–there are fads and trends, and sometimes you’re just on the bus that’s taking the long way around.
There are a couple other factors at play here, too, ones that I can’t really get into now, but it’s all beside the point. See, I’m in the throes of my little midlife crisis (KIDDING no not really), and my most recent motivational read tells me that it’s time I don’t care so much about stuff that I can’t control–but what I can control is quite a lot. So here we go.
Above all, I can’t–or shouldn’t, because feet don’t like to be shot–fully blame my bump in the publishing road on other factors or the publishing market or even the fact that I’m raising three children full-time, really. It gets a girl nowhere.
Here’s what I know for sure:
- I spent five years worrying my brains out that I was being a bad mom by focusing so much time on the writing instead of the children–this is bullshit. There’s no way any parent in her right mind should spend the entire day doing cartwheels around her children, literal or otherwise (I can’t do a cartwheel, actually. I always thought I was too tall and my center of gravity was wonky when in fact I just hated throwing myself upside down too much to practice. True story, and not at all indicative of my stubborn streak, I swear).
- My kids LOVE the fact that their mom is “an author.” I cringe when they say this–but I’ve only published one book so far, I think, because I seriously might have goal issues–but it’s a total lightbulb. You guys: we don’t have to do anything extra for our kids to think we’re amazing. We are, as their parents, their de facto example of what good parents should be: they think we’re perfect simply because we are their absolute worlds. No cartwheels necessary.
- I’ve spent a lot of the past few years (oh, hell, my life, whatever) being scared: scared of failure, scared of success, scared of anything that shoves me out of my tiny little comfort zone (if you follow my Instagram, we’ve been talking about this in my Stories). It’s kind of like how I used to love roller coasters–the faster, the higher, the crazier, the better–but as soon as my children were born I couldn’t ride one without being convinced that the safety strap was going to unlatch and I was seconds from getting thrown splat against a treetop (when Saoirse asks me to ride a coaster with her the energy from my anxiety could probably power the machine on its own). Writing falls under that fear, which is totally dumb. There’s no other way to say it: being afraid of trying just means you think too highly of yourself to begin with. That sounds way too harsh (“That was way harsh, Tai“), but think about it: if you’re truly humble and non-vain, you’ll just do the work because it’s the work itself that counts. Worrying about what people think about it? About you? There aren’t enough eye-rolling emojis in the world for that kind of narcissism. Especially when you are, ahem, at an age when you can joke about starting a midlife crisis and have it actually be true. There’s not so much time left that we can afford to waste it on worrying about what might happen if we try. We need to just do.
I’m working on a new fiction project now, with another one in the works right behind it. They’re a different breed (I think, so far) than the other two books, and I’m learning what works, what doesn’t, and where I need to grow. I’m steering myself away from the topics centered around the cliched 30-something single lady with a career plus emotions plus first world problems and looking a little more…outward, I guess. Writing is fun now in ways it wasn’t before–I’ve nothing to lose, you guys. And that’s not because of a lost book sale or a bump in the road. This lack of fear is simply because I’m through with wasting so much time worrying about wasting so much time.
Here’s the deal: I’m still jogging after that bus, but this time around? I love the run. I don’t care if the people on the sidewalk are staring at me, or laughing, or–horror of horrors–not even remotely interested in me at all. It’s just: the work itself is neat. I like blogging. I like fiction writing. If you like it and want to read it, well of COURSE it makes it all worth it–especially those of you who’ve recently joined along with me in this non-crisis midlife crisis I’m swimming through–but I’m shifting into an idea of creating with a trust that the words will land before the eyes that they should. And that, as always, includes you.
Work first, and opportunities follow. If you freeze out of sheer fear, what happens? Well, nothing. Which is what some of us–and up to now, that included me–are comfortable with.
Think about this with me, will you? What could you do, right now, that you’ve always wanted to do, if only you stopped being afraid? What little thing would make you so happy, if only you stopped putting so much weight on it?