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Thursday, July 19, 2012

Make That a Year

"I read a quote somewhere that said the first twelve years of a writing career are the hardest. This made me laugh, but it has the sharp jab of truth. It took about ten years of writing seriously before I was published (and that period was laden with rejection). Tenacity and persistence are the key to a writing career. Keep writing (regularly and seriously), and you will be published. You will get better. You will go deeper. That’s it."

-- Ann Napolitano

Image found here
I have no idea what "career year" I'm in--as like most fiction writers, I keep this career afloat alongside another--but I do believe I'm almost at 10 years of writing seriously. And today is the one-year anniversary of signing my contract with Sarah.

What a difference a year makes. The story has changed, a lot. Characters have come and gone. Past events have become present events. The story is better.

But a year! Wow. Have I really spent a year revising? Meanwhile, the books roll out from other authors (I know one YA author who cranks out one a year) and I feel, well, behind. Old. Stuck.

The wise part of me says we'll sell no book before it's time. Agent Rachelle Gardner had a similar message this year when she observed there's a glut of self-published books on our market, pushed out too soon. The need for speed, that American zeitgeist, does make me wonder if I'm so stupid to wait, so ridiculous to allow these months to pass, so behind the times.

But I know better. You don't get to your fourth decade of writing and still believe that art works on a timeline or that I crank things out like a machine.

There will always be this tension between the human and the machine. As we surround ourselves with more and more machines to do the past work of our memories (my iTouch pinging me with calendar dates, Wikipedia holding all the bits and bytes of data I once had to memorize) and as we raise the expectations on human output (you've got a computer, you can type faster, generate content faster, post faster), it's also tempting to think we can robot our way through a complex task. But it's an illusion. Art will remain stubbornly human--true art, that is, not cheap entertainment--and because of that, the impatient souls out there like me must accept that.

Some would argue that agents and publishers slow down the process, by at least 1-4 years, if not more, and they're right. But there's the other human part, the dialogue between two people who want to figure out how we can sell this thing, and then the committee of folks at a publishing house who will actually put it on the market.

I could also let go of the goal of selling. Some would argue that art is not for sale and artists ought to give it away for free. And if I'm not stuck on selling, then I could skip this whole process.

But I won't. I aim to sell this thing, someday.

If time is my obsession, and I'm flagellating myself for being "too slow," I need to take the long view.
I've written almost all my life, since I was seven, but the practice and craft (rather than the fun and play part) inform my daily life now. Sure, I've seen some success--the short pieces that gained publication, the novel excerpts and short stories that have won awards, they flicker like tiny dancing beams of light in a long dark night of rejection--but the novel, the thing that takes so much focus and patience and faith, it's "the thing" I can't let go till it sees publication. This is THE THING I MUST DO--the true sign of success. Therefore I'm in this for the long haul.

While the fourth draft sits in Sarah's hands, I'm building a detailed revision plan that looks like this--4 columns across--where I find out what the heck I've done.


Ahead of me are several more days of revision, no matter what feedback I get. Because while I find the manuscript close, it's still got a few unresolved aspects that I want to improve.

I will get better. I will go deeper. That's it.