This is not a hopeful post. Usually when I say something like that up front it’s just a clever (or not so clever) ruse; a setup for the inevitable twisty punchline that will leave you feeling strangely encouraged, despite having walked barefoot across the broken glass path of a none-too-pleasant publishing reality.
There is no clever twist this time.
Have you seen the movie, 500 Days of Summer? When it begins, you’re certain it’s going to be a love story, but then the voiceover says, without apology: “This is a story of boy meets girl. But…you should know up front, this is not a love story.”
This post is like that.
I haven’t touched any of my works-in-progress in months. That includes the middle-grade-though-maybe-it’s-really-for-adults novel, Stolen Things, that I believe is eminently publish-worthy, or maybe just a chapter-one-rewrite-away from being the kind of novel that agents would fight Ronda Rousey for in order to represent me.
That doesn’t mean my brain hasn’t been busy. I mean apart from the editorial (ie: paying) work that consumes my days and nights and eats my vacation dreams for breakfast. I have had plenty of Really Good New Ideas for short stories and novellas and novels pop into my head during this time of writerly despair.
But those are just ideas. Ideas come easy for me. Go ahead, give me a prompt, any prompt, and I’ll have a story idea for it in a matter of minutes.
This isn’t a post about ideas. It’s a post about writing. About being a writer. And about not doing the former and struggling to see myself as the latter.
My writerly despair isn’t just about rejection, though I have had my share. (Here’s how to deal with rejection: Let it sting, feel its bite, then move on.)
And it’s not just the fact that time is an inexorable asshole, layering age lines on top of age lines until I wonder who the old man in my mirror is and why hasn’t he done anything meaningful with his life?
It’s also not just about clinical depression, though I am intimately familiar with that Liar-In-Residence.
This is a post about discouragement. About the kind of failures that don’t make us stronger or count toward some cosmic tally that will ultimately tip the scale in favor of some grand success. (“You’ve hit 53 rejections! Congratulations! The next agent to read your book will love it and so will the whole world and Neil Gaiman will refer to it as ‘unexpectedly brilliant’ the same day Steven Spielberg options the movie rights.”)
It’s about thinking you can’t do it anymore. I mean write, but I also mean “believe you can write.” The former is a familiar place for all writers. We look at our words, no matter where they are in the editorial process, and whisper or shout, “I can’t write.”
That’s normal. That’s expected. And that doesn’t scare me one bit.
What does scare me is thinking that I may have lost the ability to believe in myself. Oh sure, there are others who believe in me. At least two or three. And I don’t mean to disparage them for their generosity and kindness.
But to be a writer you have to have at least an inkling of belief that you can do this thing. And I am currently inkling-less.
No, really. That’s the end of the post.
Feeling a little uncomfortable? Anxious? Nervous? You really want me to end this with a tease of hope, don’t you.
I warned you this wasn’t a hopeful post.
Sometimes you just have to own your despair.
And then see what happens tomorrow.
(What’s that? The last sentence looks a little like hope to you? Well, that’s all you, my friend. All you.)