Sunday, February 09, 2014

Hard Words

It's been a while since I posted here, because, frankly, I haven't had much to say. I've been a way in my mind palace, contemplating the dilemmas of a problem client: me. But today I woke up with a burning need to write. I need to get some things off my chest, and as per usual, these things have a lot less to do with my personal writing and publishing concerns and a lot more to do with that perpetual existential crisis most of us find ourselves in. A while back I wrote a post entitled Hope. I rather like it. If you're looking for a hopeful, poignant examination of the power of writing, I suggest you check it out.

Because this is a very different post.

This week I had the honor of buying my very own copy of Bethany Hagen's first book, and like all good, narcissistic writers I hopped to the back to see my name in the acknowledgements. Bethany said a couple of things about pancakes and such, but the thing she thanked me for first was "the hard words." I suspect she was not always terribly thankful for them. I suspect she maybe still isn't. And it's moments like that which make me realize I'm much more like Sherlock Holmes than John Watson.

And today you are getting the hard words.

When I started writing back in college I had one, singular goal: publication. When I started writing Crewel that was my goal. As I write my current book that is my goal. So what's changed? My perception of the path. I used to see writing and publishing like it was a giant highway. If I stayed on track I'd hit my mile markers: finish first draft, edit, get critiqued, querying, etc. And then I'd get to my first major marker: landing an agent. That was the big one. Getting an agent in the car with me was my ticket into the carpool lane. I wouldn't be going it alone anymore. I'd have someone to talk to, someone to help me navigate, and that someone came with access to a lane that I was sure was moving much faster than the rest of the highway. Because I, like a lot of writers, thought publication was an exit as though when I finally got there I would discover a 24 hour coffee shop with fast wifi, good sandwiches, and comfortable chairs, and in that mythical land of publication my biggest dilemma would be what story to write next. I had my agent. I had my editor. I had my book deal. I had arrived.

So imagine my surprise when publication wasn't an exit. It was a mile marker.

Someday I'll write more specifically about the actual experience of publication, but right now those pages are too raw. I need some time to figure out what I'm really trying to say first.  For now, let's stick with the fact that I'm still on the damned highway. Except now it feels a lot more like that episode of Doctor Who where every one's been driving on the freeway for decades and all the exits are closed and possibly getting carpool status and going to the fast lane will only result in your imminent death.

Yeah.

Not only is traffic bumper to bumper, it's stacking up, and everyone's sitting in their cars asking the same questions: was there an accident? did someone break publishing? And now every mile marker seems coupled with an option: stay on the highway or get off and try a different route. And we all know how that goes. Can't you just see that little "recalculating" symbol now?

So there are your hard words: writing and publishing is a super highway that's bumper to bumper and who knows if the alternate routes will be better.

But this parable doesn't end there, because I am, quite inexplicably, an optimist. I know this because despite all the crankiness and road rage and my desperate desire to pee or find a Starbucks, I see what I've really got in front of me: choices.

If you had ever sat in on one of my college courses you would know that for me feminism boils down to one simple idea: choices. There is a lot more to that theory, of course, but I won't bore you with that. What you need to know is that as a modern woman who is constantly questioning the nature of her existence when I stop and realize that I have a choice, I am empowered. That doesn't mean I'm grateful. That doesn't mean I don't get frustrated. That doesn't mean that I'm not still squeaking by on hope most of the time. It just means I have a choice, and a choice is a very powerful thing.

16 comments:

  1. This is so beautiful, Genn, and perfectly encapsulates what so many of us don't know how to say about what publishing is. Thank you for this!

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    1. Thanks Shallee. I'm still not sure I really said what I mean, but hey...

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  2. Very powerful, and so true. Thank you for writing this.

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  3. "Not only is traffic bumper to bumper, it's stacking up, and everyone's sitting in their cars asking the same questions: was there an accident? did someone break publishing?" I can't tell you how much I love this, Genn! Thanks for a great post <3

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    1. I'm glad this feels familiar to someone else, Gina! See you on the highway.

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  4. Well, I never LIKE hearing hard words, but I am always grateful for them :)

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    1. This is why I always picture you with a flock of small, animated animals around your head.

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  5. Fab post. I have taken about a bajillion odd exits, learned from each, and still, even after publication, I have no idea where this road is going...

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    1. All I want is some writerly GPS sometimes.

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  6. I remember that Dr Who episode. I love this post. You are right on the money. This is what getting published feels like... what happened to the exit?

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  7. I love this post. I absolutely adore the Doctor Who reference. I just finished reading your book Crewel and I really enjoyed it. I'm looking forward to reading your other books and diving further into the world of Arras (or Earth considering the end of Crewel). And I would also love to ask some questions about the writing of this book. But of course only if you have time to answer them. Thanks!

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  8. Nice post Gennifer..your story rain is lie is my favorite one..

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