We shall see.
It’s a phrase I repeat ad nauseum to my writer friends. Any time one of us is convinced a situation is hopeless – the words won’t come, the agent doesn’t respond, an editor hasn’t yet read the material – I encourage her with the one true hope: we shall see.
When a friend is convinced, absolutely certain, that the tide has turned and Fate is clutching her to Her bosom, whenever an agent is excited by the prospect of reading her work or an editor expresses interest in an exclusive, I warn my friend: we shall see.
It’s not that I’ve undertaken a Quixotic journey (more Sisyphean, I think) when I encourage my writer friends -- or that I doubt their talents when I heed caution, we shall see. It’s simply that this business is capricious by nature, with stunted attention spans and an insatiable hunger for the latest darling. It’s true of any business, I suppose.
As writers, we have control over just so much: the stories we choose to write, whom we choose to share it with, how -- if at all -- we promote it. Beyond that, it doesn’t matter. Timing, luck, politics, kismet all come into play. There are thousands of talented writers who may never see their words published, midlist authors whose names you’ll never know, all of whose writing is far superior to many of the bestsellers. I don’t know why.
We shall see tempers everything. It brings into focus my responsibility to write the best I can because that’s the purpose here, to write well, to prove myself to myself by telling an honest story. There are no deadlines for that, no bar by which to measure it. It’s incredibly reassuring to know I can’t manage everything, only the words.
Anytime the doubt creeps or the euphoria threatens to overtake reason, reassure yourself that nothing in life is ever certain. A book deal isn’t a guarantee. I know a man whose book landed in the draw, the term used for when the advance is paid, but the book is never published based on the publisher’s discretion. I know of several people who continued to work on their books for near a decade even when all of their beta readers gave up on them after critiquing the umpteenth draft. Each created award-winning novels, backlist successes. I know a woman who advised many, many writer friends with their novels, watched as they got published, hit the New York Times’ bestseller list while she wrote book after unpublished book. How it must have pained her. But she did what she could, she faced the page each day and created her own truth. I read her deal on Publishers Marketplace recently.
For all of you out there wondering about your place, do what you can to create it and in time we shall all see.
Grub Street South at Buttonwood Books: Join us tonight at Buttonwood Books in Cohasset at 7:00 pm for Hank Phillippi Ryan's workshop, "Nip, Tuck, Tweak and Polish-the Joys of Editing." Hank’s debut book, Prime Time will publish in early June.
Tuesday, May 29, 2007