So I finished my novel, wrote all the promotion material, and submitted my stuff to more than a dozen agents. One said they were interested and never got back to me, another, the email didn’t go through, and two more rejected my pitch with nice encouraging comments. Now the doubt begins to worm its way into my most active shrieking critic – me.
Your novel isn’t good enough, isn’t what agents or publishers are looking for, doesn’t fit the current trend. There are thousands of excellent writers, better than you, who never get published so why do I think you will. You’re too old for an agent to bother with. You’re not a “real” writer. It’s a waste of time and fraught with frustration and doubt. On and on it goes, but I keep writing and I keep submitting anyway. That’s the story of my life. I always just keep putting one foot in front of the other toward that North Star.
So just why do I bother? I can think of dozens of activities I enjoy with no high stakes: playing piano, painting, gardening, walking and bird watching, cooking, Thai Chi, or how about just hanging out with friends? I love doing all of those things and I have plenty of them to occupy my time on this earth. In fact it’s a hassle to find the time to write at all! So why do I bother with this frustrating occupation and allow my nagging monkey monster to keep harassing me with doubt and downers? I would like to see my work published but what if nothing I write ever appears on the shelf of a bookstore? Do I still want to write?
Who am I writing for? What do publishers want? Do I care what publishers want? If an agent wants a series do I want to write a series? If they want a hero with no parents who will save the world taking fantastic adventures like Harry Potter; or a Wimpy kid kind of fun book. Do I really want to write books like that? What is my motivation? A much better question to ask myself is, what gives me joy? Put that way, it’s simple.
When I put my thoughts down, I feel better. And funny enough, words appear on the page even though I didn’t think them up; ideas, feelings, events, characters, all turn up on the page uninvited taking up residence in my imagination, doing all kinds of things by themselves. They take me on journeys and I discover parts of myself I didn’t know exist. I learn things about the world and others that I would have missed if I didn’t write. But how can I write something publishers want?
The truth is I can’t. I have to start with what I’m passion about and let the characters take me on a journey. If a publisher likes that journey, so be it. And if they don’t, well, I’ve still had a really amazing trip and met incredibly interesting people; many have become lifelong friends. So even if I never find a publisher for my debut novel When the Magpie Calls, I am still so glad I wrote it.
So why bother to write? I like to think that the experience and point of view my characters reveal, matters. As human beings we are wired to share our experience and our stories shed light on what makes us human. So I will keep writing, putting one word after another down on the page, toward that illusive North Star, a journey with no end in sight.