So Why Bother?

Everyone wants to write a book these days, or so it seems. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been to gatherings over the holidays where someone tells me they’ve thought of writing a book. Of course, then they proceed to tell me all about the proposed premise. I smile and try to stay encouraging. 

But every one of us who has finished writing at least one book and has tried to get that book published soon realizes it’s not easy at all. It isn’t easy coming up with a story that can stay the marathon distance of 70,000 + or more words. Harder still to make that story read well. And the editing! It seems endless, relentless. There are countless hours of poring over the story again and again, evaluating every chapter, then every paragraph, then every sentence. Pretty soon, you start to doubt yourself. How could you have misspelled that word on page 147? Why didn’t you notice you reused the same descriptor four times in the same chapter? So, you edit again.

Then you decide that the story isn’t that great and you shelve it. Then you start another story and the process repeats. Maybe you’ve finally written something you love so much that you want to share it with others, so you spend days and weeks learning about how to query, write a synopsis, and search for agents that you’d like to query. 

And then you send out that first query letter. Your heart is racing, your palms sweat, and you think you just might be sick. No, you’re sure of it. Then you send another and another and another, all with the same heart-pounding, gut-wrenching feeling. Maalox and wine seem like good investments. You’ve said no to gatherings and parties and withdrawn from family, friends, pets. You’ve spent untold sunny days inside, missed entire seasons of what used to be your favorite television shows, missed seeing a dozen or so movies writing, and writing, and… writing.

And you wait and wonder about those queries. Sometimes it’s a one page summary and pitch that represents all your hard work. How did it all come down to pitching an entire novel in less than 350 words? 

Can I get an Amen on that one, sister?

And the rejections come in. Or worse, you get no feedback at all. Nothing. So, you lick your wounds, dust off the seat of your pants and send more. And more rejections come in. So you try again. Five this time, maybe ten. Even well-meaning family and friends start to wonder about you. Clearly, you’re sadistic.

And you wait some more. It’s a tough business, and certainly not for the weak of heart or stamina. If you can’t take rejection, don’t bother applying. If you can’t take criticism, and moreover, if you can’t look at that criticism constructively, take up sky diving or knitting. Do anything else but write.

In the corner of your brain, another story surfaces. Part of you wonders what is wrong with you – how could you even consider another novel? After all, you can’t even get an agent for the last one! But you do it anyway and find that you can’t stop and that it helps keep your mind off those damned query letters. 

Then one day, you get a request – just a partial, but you’re deliriously happy. Then you get another, and another. You’re on cloud nine now, and even though you get more rejections, they sting less. 

And then you get a rejection or two from a partial or full.  A few rejections are kind enough to include compliments such as: You are clearly a talented story teller, or Your writing has merit… but still, no takers. That’s okay, you tell yourself. I’ll keep trying.  And, encouraged by those hard to come by and such kind words, you do.
The articles you read in Publisher’s Weekly, Romantic Times, agent blogs, writer blogs, and Publisher’s lunch keep mentioning how bad the economy is, they reek of publishing layoffs and upheavals, and the cold, hard fact that the odds you’ll ever get published are somewhere around 50,000 to 1. 

So why bother? I mean the time you spent writing and reading and querying has paid nothing. Not one red cent. You could have spent all that time working a part-time job. But you keep going. In fact, even if your beloved book did get published the odds are that a part time job would have paid more. It’s the only thing I tell people who want to write and go on to elaborate what they’ll do with all the money their book makes: Don’t give up the day job. The term starving artist has a lot of truth to it. If you write only for the money, stop now. 

Tell friends, family, and coworkers you write and they’ll all assume your writing is sub-par if you haven’t managed to sell your work after 20 or 40 queries. They’ll all tell you to just post your story on a blog or self-publish. Frankly, I’m stubborn. Persistence is everything. I’ll keep trying the old-fashioned way, thank you very much. Nothing wrong with other routes – it’s just not the route I’ve chosen.

Why do I do it? I suspect for the same reason some of you do. Forgive the grammar, but I can’t NOT write. I’ve tried and I’m miserable without creating new worlds, new characters. The brain won’t shut off. Okay, so why do I even try getting published? I’d like to say that I’m confident I don’t totally suck as a writer (I’ve got those kind rejection letters to prove it, LOL!). I’d like to say that I come up with some pretty great ideas that I’d honestly pay money for what I’ve written, assuming someone else wrote the story, of course. Basically, I write stories I like to read. I could say all these things when asked why I keep going, and of course I’d get the nod that conveys mild understanding or pity, I’m not sure which. Doesn’t matter. Instead I tell people the reason I keep trying against such odds is that 45 or 60% of all statistics are made up on the spot and that what I do suck at is math.

Why do you keep trying? 

What’s playing on the iPod:The Appeal, by John Grisham, and a playlist I compiled for the little story that could – my YA Urban Fantasy I’ve called The Book of Lost Souls, whose main protagonist is every bit as persistent as that writer in me.
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7 thoughts on “So Why Bother?

  1. You hit the nail on the head right there. Square on the head.

    My answer to your question is: “What you said.”

    I can’t Not write. And trust me, you don’t want to be around me when I’m not.

    PS Firewolf from the OWG here 🙂
    You’re welcome to check out my not quite so eloquent LJ at http://phoenixfirewolf.livejournal.com/

  2. Sure! I linked your blog in my sidebar, so I’ll come back 🙂

    Always glad to have you over in my little corner of cyberspace.

  3. You’re right. Writing is an addiction, I think. And you don’t realize you’ve been hooked until it’s too late to turn back.

    If I don’t write, I’m unhappy. When I do write, I feel great.

    And so I write. And my DH breathes a sigh of relief. (Until he starts complaining that I spend too much time tapping on the computer. LOL )

    Donna
    (writing as D.B.Reynolds)

  4. Hi Michelle,

    It’s Mike from OWG group 5. I really enjoyed this blog post. It’s all very true. I suppose the more we write, the better we get, which is our ultimate goal and that’s why a few of us crazy people bang our heads against the wall over and over and over again.

    I wish you the best of luck with your writing. Maybe you’ll stop over at my blog. You can find it here: http://ghostwryter.wordpress.com/

    Thanks for the read and keep on writing!

  5. I just happened to wander across your blog, and I must say I truly appreciated this post. It’s exactly how I feel. This business is a hard nut to crack and sometime I wonder why I put so much time and effort into something that might never see the light of day. But you just do. You do crazy things for what you love.

    But it’s always nice to hear you’re not the only one. It can feel that way sometimes, alone behind your laptop. 🙂

    So thank you.

    • Thanks! I’m so glad to wondered by. And yes, we aren’t the only ones. We can’t stop writing, and yet it’s such a subjective, hard biz to break into.

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