Stephen King has said a great many witty, pithy, and all-too-true things about writing…and life. But one of my favorites is this:
“If you write, someone will try to make you feel lousy about it.”
I’m not sure why, and maybe people in other artistic fields have experienced the same, but everyone seems to feel perfectly free to tell writers how they should live their lives. For example, if you write so-called “genre fiction”, which encompasses pretty much everything except non-fiction and so-called “literary” novels, chances are that you will receive some scathing comments, as King did when his teacher told him that he shouldn’t write “trash”. I have a friend who loves to write romances, only to be asked by her friends and family when she’s going to write a “real book”. Or how about the embittered book critic I used to work with who once asked what my book was about, and before I could answer said, “Well, I’m sure it isn’t literary.” Now what is that supposed to mean?
Years ago, I took the bold step of walking away from a successful freelance business so I could finish my novel. I’d been so busy writing articles for others that I had nothing left for my own work. Even though it was a big risk, I told my clients I’d be unavailable for two months and got down to it. When my neighbor found out what I was doing, she looked at my fiance and said, “Wow. You want to be a writer? I hope he’s got a good job.” That comment had me simmering for weeks, I was so pissed. And the best part of it? My neighbor was the mother of a fairly well-known, successful author! Guess we know how supportive she was of her daughter’s career choice.
What is it about writers that makes everyone want to put their two cents in? I wish I knew. I would never tell a heavy metal musician that perhaps he should give folk music a try. Or suggest that a GP become a heart surgeon.
It took me a long time to land an agent. From what I’ve heard from others in the biz, this is normal. It’s more unusual to get an agent on your first couple of tries than it is to have accumulated a large stack of rejections first. I wanted an agent because I didn’t just want to write for fun–I wanted to writing to be my career. Moreover, I wanted a New York agent because–even in this era of email, text messaging, and video conferencing–agents that live in the heart of the publishing industry still have an advantage. Most of the time, when I wasn’t drowning in self-pity, I knew I would get one eventually. I just had to keep trying, and not let the rejections get to me.
As always, people asked me how the writing was going. I told them that I was still working on getting an agent. Nine times out of ten, I got this response: “Why don’t you just send your book to (fill in name of small local press here)?” So I had to explain that: 1) this local press was actually highly selective and had a very narrow category of books they would accept, being a small publisher; 2) the press was not-for-profit, and therefore couldn’t really afford to pay its authors well; and 3) maybe it’s shameful to admit, but–I believed I could do better. I knew it would take me longer, but I was willing to wait. Anything worth doing is worth doing well. And I still feel the same. Even though things didn’t work out with my first agent, it turns out that that isn’t unusual, either. So I’ll keep walking along the path I’ve chosen for myself, and eventually, it will lead where I want it to. That’s the great thing about freedom of choice, isn’t it? The ability to choose your own path, for better or worse.
How about you, dear reader? Ever received some unwanted advice that chafes you to this day? Feel free to vent here!
Thanks for reading!