On Sunday I had occasion to hear from two people I know who also write and they provided a couple of different takes on what it feels like to be accomplished in the craft.
The first fellow reported that he felt like he was failing at writing. He has not published, is struggling with his one and only manuscript and has almost overwhelming feelings of self-doubt. He knows the mountain he has to climb and he’s feeling discouraged. What he was surprised to learn, from me and from another published author of similar success, is that for some that feeling never goes away. With every project and every working day there comes the sense that it’s all futile, and that whatever good things that happen to have happened will be the last good things to come along.
I’m sure there are some writers who don’t think this way. They have their hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars and they know they have it made. James Patterson makes $96 million a year and he doesn’t even write his own books. That’s not the sort of guy who worries about tomorrow. For the rest of us, though, there’s the reality of swimming in a body of water fraught with whirlpools and other hazards, and just staying motivated can be a real challenge.
So this other writer and I tried to give the guy some sympathy because we’ve been there. We are there. I don’t know if we succeeded in cheering him up at all, but at least he had the comfort of knowing he’s not the only one feeling those feelings.
The second fellow I heard from was one who is likewise unpublished and had managed through sheer force of will to pare down a 130,000-word novel to 65,000 words in the course of a single, herculean editing session. He was feeling totally supercharged and spent hours afterward looking for places where he could send his newly lean piece of work. He told us all he expected the book to appear very soon. He was all confidence. Then I came along.
I don’t like rain on anyone’s parade. I really don’t. At the same time, I feel it’s incumbent upon me to tell everyone how it is. I congratulated this writer on his amazing feat, which was definitely deserving of praise, but I gently reminded him that even if he were to sell his book tomorrow, and the book required no editing, it would be at least a year before it ever saw the light of day. That’s no one’s definition of very soon.