A good friend got “the call” from her agent this morning, and I’m as excited about it as she is. She’d submitted a book proposal, met with several editors, and then waited for those who really, really wanted it to make an offer by 10:00 a.m. this morning. The highest bid was from an editor she looks forward to working with, the publishing house is an old established one, and they have an innovative marketing plan for the book. If you’re a writer, it doesn’t get any better than that.
No non-writer in the world, including agents, editors and reviewers, knows how hard it is to write a book. Nobody can imagine that the sentences that flow or march or stagger across the page have been pushed and prodded and mauled and flailed until they did whatever the author wanted them to do. Or didn’t. In the movies, writers either sit in linen dresses and pen elegant lines in ink, or they sit at a typewriter surrounded by wads of crumpled paper and pound out brilliant novels before collapsing over the keys. In real life, most of us sit in front of computers several hours a day and scribble on post-its and newspaper margins and backs of envelopes the rest of the time. We write, we throw it away, we write, we rewrite, we chuck the whole thing and start over, always with the tantalizing scent of something really great hovering at the edge of our minds that we can’t quite capture no matter how much we try.
Most of us look up now and then and ask ourselves, “Why the hell am I doing this?” It’s sure as heck not for the money. For every writer who gets a big six-figure advance that you read about in the paper, there are a hundred whose annual income is less than they’d make if their job was to ask people “Do you want fries with that?” It isn’t for the prestige, either. Tell somebody you’ve just met that you’re a writer, and they look at you funny. Show them your latest publication, and they say something like, “Is that a real book, or did you write it yourself?”
We get carpal tunnel syndrome. We blow out the joints of our fingers. We get torqued computer necks. Our lower backs give out. Our eyesight shrinks to the distance to the computer screen. Our social life shrinks to the number of people who don’t require more than two or three hours notice because that’s as far ahead as we’re able to plan because we’re immersed in a chapter and can’t leave it.
Ah, but every now and then, when you’ve wrestled with a sentence long enough, it suddenly gives up and stretches itself out in a sinuous line and hums. Even if you’re the only one who hears the music, that little bit of harmony that you’ve just created causes your brain to light up and smile. It’s like watching a bunch of colored bits of glass swirl into a harmonious pattern in a kaleidoscope. Even if you’re the only person who will ever appreciate it, those moments of creating word-music keep a writer going back in hopes of doing it again.
Which is why we celebrate the success of our writer friends, because we’re all in this together. So today I’m going around with a big sappy grin on my face because a writer I care a lot about has been given a boost of approval. She deserves every bit of it.