Battling the Beast

I'm preparing to reinstall my operating systems today (Dhia! What an undertaking!), and while I'm waiting for various backups to complete, I'd like to share with you something I'm learning about writing your first book.

The hardest part isn't beginning the work, or straining against the limits of your creativity to craft the most beautiful words you can, or finding the time and the wherewithal to finish what you've started.

It's trying to sell your book when you're done.

The waiting and rejection are easier beasts to battle when you only have a poem or a short story on the line. They took a day, or a week, or perhaps a month to write. Not so with the novel where your mind, heart and soul have lived for likely a number of years, the novel that made you say 'no' to so many other things for its sake, the novel whose characters are not quite people but live in you nonetheless. When you send that work out into the world, a significant piece of your being bears it hence while the rest of you sits at home like an anxious mother and waits for news of her child. And when it's rejected, for whatever reason, the beast you battle is much, much bigger.

Here are some of its names:

∗ Is it good enough?
∗ Is it too long? Too short? Too slow? Too fast?
∗ Is it commercially viable?
∗ What if I never sell it?
∗ Have I wasted my time?

The last of these is perhaps the hardest to fight, and anyone who tries to help you by saying that art should exist for its own sake just doesn't fucking get it. Yes, Emily Dickenson stuck her poems in a drawer, but you're not Emily Dickenson. So how do you bear up under the inevitable waiting and rejection that come with this process? How do you beat the beast?

Well, I can't tell you how to do that, because my personal best so far is a stalemate. But I can tell you how not to lose.

First, if you value your career at all, never respond to your rejections. It doesn't matter what the agent or editor writes; file it and move on. I mention this first because it's absolutely crucial advice, and you're an idiot if you don't heed it. There's nothing to be gained by such a response and so much to lose. Second, remember that this thing you're feeling, whatever shape it might take, is normal, natural and human. So feel it, and then suck it up and keep moving. Anxiety and worry breed stagnation like a sewer breeds disease, and you don't want to frighten yourself into stillness. Third, send that manuscript out. Don't let it sit. Keep it circulating. The more people see what you've written, the greater the likelihood that someone will see its worth. Finally, keep writing. I know you've got half a dozen ideas on the back burner right now, so pick one up and start working on it. Have something else to offer the world no matter what happens to the work you've already completed.

Your novel will either sell or it won't, but one way or the other, don't stand still and let the beast overtake you. Keep moving forward, always forward, and keep fighting the good fight.