Every once in awhile, as has happened recently, I begin to question my purpose in life. Specifically, am I meant to write. More specifically, am I meant to write the kind of fiction I’ve been writing for 20 or so years. And lastly, if I’m not, what is it I should be doing instead?
I may never know if the reason I’m not more published is that I haven’t been persistent enough with agents and editors or because I lack talent. If it’s the latter, that’s good news for me, because in my opinion, talent isn’t exactly overflowing in the world of publishing. If it’s the former, I guess that’s good news for me as well. I could simply step up my querying efforts, couldn’t I?
When I question whether or not I’m meant to write, I’m taken back to a mini-health crisis I experienced 20 or so years ago. My symptoms could have been indicative of a couple of things, one of which was life-threatening. Before the test results were in, I’d already asked myself that question: What’s important to me if my time on earth is limited? First was raising my kids to adulthood. Right after that was, “I want to write my stories.” I’d been limping along taking night classes at the local community college with some idea of eventually getting a degree in I-don’t-know-what. I decided I wanted to spend my time writing instead.
That health scare turned out to be something easily dealt with, but what I learned about what I wanted stayed with me. I want to write.
Even now, in these tougher economic times, I wish I could say there’s something else I want to do. Something I could go to college for, get a degree in, pursue as a career. Sadly, I can’t think of anything. I only want to write. My Starbucks career is enough for me. I think by now I should have an honorary degree in Latte Creation. What is that worth on the open market?
There’s a chapter in The Art of War For Writers called “Write hard, write fast…” It made me think of my early years writing where I wrote and wrote and wrote and hardly ever queried. By the time a few rejections rolled in, I’d moved on to another project. I even had an agent ask for complete manuscripts early on. She offered to send one of them out even though she didn’t think it would sell. I should have told her to try, because who knows? Maybe it would have sold. Or maybe I’d have received enough editorial feedback to sell it. But maybe I wasn’t ready for publishing success back then. Maybe I’m still not ready for it.
One thing you will find if you write for a long period of time and don’t sell anything. You will soon be surrounded by unfinished and unpublished manuscripts. I have boxes filled with them. Some I’ve written and rewritten and have two or three versions of the same story. I’m convinced there’s nothing wrong with the stories, it’s simply the execution that is lacking.
Someone told me those are called “trunk novels.” If I don’t sell something else soon, I’m going to need a bigger trunk. At least I wised up and started recycling paper.
I don’t know what’s better. A writer who writes and writes and writes and doesn’t sell most of what she creates? Or a writer who agonizes over that first effort and never quite finishes it? I guess it’s better to at least finish something. Get a first draft done so you can type “the end” instead of getting stuck halfway through and never finishing it. You can always go back and fix what you’ve written. But you can’t fix a blank page.