One of the myths unpublished writers tend to believe is that things get easier after you get an agent or after you get published or after you’ve made some good money from your writing. They tend to think of the “before” as frightening and frustrating and painful and the “after” as some kind of writerly heaven. But I don’t know a single well-published writer who would agree with this myth. The fact of the matter is that creating things and sending them out into the world, where they will be judged and measured and bought and sold, is never easy.
I am telling you this because yesterday I sent 93 pages of my novel-in-progress to my agent. She has not yet seen these pages, she has not yet agreed that this is a book that will be worthy of selling but we had decided together that I would send her the work when I had 100 pages. My goal was to get her those pages by April 1. I didn’t quite make that deadline, but yesterday, after doing a round of revisions that felt very resonant, I decided that it was time. Sure, I could have kept working on those pages and polishing them up until the end of time, but I decided I was ready for them to be judged.
It was hard to put them out there. In order to make myself do it, I had to close my eyes, hold my breath, say, “WTF,” and press the “Send” button as fast as I could before I changed my mind.
I immediately felt elated, imagining the phone call I would get when she couldn’t contain her excitement. I imagined the auction we would hold, the juicy deal we would nail down, the announcement we would get to make, the interviews I would do. I pictured, in other words, making the buzzer-beater shot to win the national championships – a moment of glory we got to witness earlier this week when Villanova beat North Carolina.
That moment of elation was followed very quickly by a moment of gut-wrenching terror, because I have had that dream before. I have gotten close to that moment of glory before – the ball in my hands, the dream within reach – and it didn’t happen, and it was horrible.
I understand that there are no guarantees.
Did you see any of the photos of those young men who lost that championship basketball game this week? In case you missed them, I put one at the top of the post – a shot of North Carolina’s Theo Pinson in the locker room after the game. I mean, it makes you want to cry. We can all stand back and say, “But that was just a college basketball game, it didn’t really mean anything.” But those players worked for that moment for most of their lives, just like us. They dreamed of that glory for a very long time, just like us. Not getting it, in basketball or in writing, hurts a lot.
When we send our work out into the world, we risk that pain. It is much easier to keep the pages safe on our desktop. It is much easier to share them with a small group of friends who will tell us what a good job we did.
But I am proud to be a writer who meets my deadlines. I am proud to be a writer who gets back up after a tough fall. I am proud that I keep working to get better, and that I am not afraid to have my work judged, even if it’s judged harshly.
I would rather be all those things than a writer who is too scared to share my work with the world.
I have no idea what my agent will say about the 93 pages. She could say, “Love them, keep going, let’s DO this!” Or she could say, “I think you might want to shelve this for awhile.” Or she could say, “There are parts of this that are very good” (which means that there are part of it that need a lot of work.)
Since my last book died a quiet death, there is even a very real chance that she could say, “I don’t think I can represent your work anymore.”
That’s the dirty secret that published writers never tell you: that they live in fear of not being able to do it again. They live in fear that they have already hit their peak. They live in fear that whatever success they had before was a fluke and now everyone knows they are a fraud.
I think every one of those desperate thoughts.
And you know how I know I am not a fraud? How I counteract the doubt? Today, I will start work on Page 94 and I will figure out where that next scene fits into the whole, and what needs to happen to make it sing.
I have an exercise that my memoir-writing class is doing this week called The Universal Constants of Creativity. It is a way to evaluate the places in your creative process where you get stuck. If “letting go” and “sending your work out into the world” is a tough one for you, you might want to DOWNLOAD IT HERE and do the exercise yourself.