“A signed first edition.”
Evilkev opened the book and started to read the inscription. “Sandra, the most patient woman in the world. I appreciate all the support. Simon Kernick.” By now, he was laughing. “Boy, you can tell he doesn’t know you because if there’s one word that does not describe my Bear, it’s patient!”
By that point I was smiling too. It’s true. The only ‘patients’ I was born with were the ones in the hospital.
I could blame it on being poor as a kid and always wanting what others had, or on being the baby of the family, always striving to reach the same point my sister was already at, but in truth I’m just an impatient person. In a way, I consider it a good thing. I set goals and work my butt off to achieve them. I’m driven.
SW Vaughn posted something that got me thinking about this a few weeks ago. The crux of the post was, “What’s your brass ring?” What will it take to make you happy?
To be honest, I couldn’t believe anyone said they’d ever be happy.
I know myself well enough to know that it will never be enough. Oh, sure, you might kid yourself into thinking X or Y will be, for a while, but deep down you know it won’t be.
You start off with the goal of writing. That takes discipline. Then there’s the goal of finishing a novel. Don’t get me wrong – I applaud great short story writers because I struggle with them myself – but writing a novel is a whole different ballpark. When you complete one, you’re a novelist. In my own head I went from a wannabe to someone who could actually finish a book. And, in fact, in reality too. I could query a manuscript at that point. I knew I was capable of completing a manuscript.
But then it isn’t enough just to finish a novel. It has to be a good novel. Maybe even great, but that’s not a word you’re letting your brain form. You want to make it better. You want to write another novel and make it better still.
Of course, at some point, you actually decide you want to see your work get published…
And then it still isn’t enough to be published. You want to get good reviews. You want to be nominated for awards. You want to sell well. You want to win some of those awards.
You see, I know already that I’ll never be satisfied.
I heard someone say once that if you’re happy with where you’re at spiritually, you can die.
I’m not going to go anywhere near that in terms of a discussion and whether or not I agreed with the person, but when it comes to writing there’s a bit of truth in it. This is certainly something I’ve heard Val McDermid talk about – the pressure on yourself to write a better book.
In fact, I know I’ve referred people to it before, but Val sent out a newsletter earlier this year, in which she shared some of her struggles writing The Grave Tattoo. It was a nightmare. I really was beginning to wonder if I had lost it. If I had come to the end of the road as a writer. But again, the deadline was looming and so I tried to get the book down. It felt like walking out on a high wire without a safety net. And the first time, I fell off. I got about fifty pages in and I panicked. I would sit for hours staring at the screen, trying all the tricks I knew to kick-start myself. But nothing worked. I crashed the first deadline with embarrassing aplomb. I'd never been late before, had been scathing about the irresponsibility of authors who messed everyone around by not delivering on time, and here I was, being scathed by my own words.
I was so embarrassed about the whole thing, I pretended it just wasn't happening. I was nonchalant when asked about the book, insouciant about its potential delivery date. It was awful. I wasn't sleeping properly, I was avoiding other writers and I felt like a fraud.
Now, Val has something like 24 books to her name, as well as years of experience in journalism behind her. If there’s one author I know who shouldn’t feel like a fraud, it’s Val.
But I think this marks the difference for me, this is the attitude that sets certain writers apart in my head and makes them the ones I look up to. All the authors I truly admire continue to strive to do better. They never rest on their laurels.
What they’ve achieved is never enough.
To me, I think this is what it is to be a writer. A writer, simply, must write. It goes beyond sales and money – it’s a part of who we are. ”I’m working when I’m fighting with my wife. I constantly ask myself, ‘How can I use this stuff to my literary advantage?’” - Art Buchwald
Evilkev has been reading Suspicious Circumstances this week. It’s the first time he’s read it in two years, since I wrote the first draft on it. I keep asking what he thinks and he keeps telling me it’s good.
This is why spouses are useless as critics. Well, unless we’re talking about housework, cooking or time management. Then he’s a great critic.
I know my editor (who is probably cringing right now) told me that the worst was over. Not much left to address. From here, it should get easier.
Not to worry.
Telling me not to worry would be like telling a shark to stop swimming. The only way that’ll happen is with death.
Yes, I’m obsessive. It used to be enough to be getting published. Already, now it isn’t. It has to be the very best book it can be. What if so-and-so doesn’t like it? What if I’ve missed something critical?
You tell yourself, contractually, you don’t have final say over the title or the cover and much is out of your hands.
But you still worry about it all anyway.
Believe me. I’m one of those people that, told the sky is blue today, would go outside and look to make sure for myself.
My advice to you is that, whatever goals you’ve put in front of yourself for your life, your career, add another one. Make it a goal to actually take some time to enjoy each achievement. There’s nothing wrong with taking a moment to smile when you’ve overcome an obstacle, or cheer when you’ve experienced victory.
And if you find someone who teaches classes in how to appreciate the special moments of life, can you give me their name?
John Gooley writes some pretty amusing poetry. Stop by, check it out, and welcome him to blogging!
My thanks to my friend Linda for this one!
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Well, gotta go, have to write to the Hefty bag people.