I am not yet an author. It’s true I have writing credits; my essays have appeared in national newspapers, on NPR, I even had a story on This American Life last fall. That was a good day. But it’s not enough.
This week Tess Gerritsen blogged about posts she read on a message board. Some of the comments about genre writing so enraged her, she felt like she wanted to “get out a gun and start shooting people.” Tess Gerritsen is a New York Times bestselling author several times over. Her books, multiple titles even, can be found in nearly every bookstore, airport, and convenience store around the world. She’s arrived! Tess shouldn’t be angst-ridden about a few offhand comments, or even if her next book does well, but, my goodness, reading her blog, it’s clear she is. Her mega-success isn’t enough.
This past week, I was talking to a friend whose novel was recently published. If you’ve walked into your neighborhood bookstore, you’ve seen it. Her book is doing really well, both her agent and publisher are thrilled, and are eager for more. Still, she’s not quite satisfied. She checks her Amazon ranking many times a day (which author doesn't), wearing herself thin on book tour while trying to finish a second manuscript. Though she's pleased, her success is something she’s dreamed of for years – something we all dream of – isn’t quite enough.
Yesterday I was talking to another author. He’s nearing completion of his third novel, the first two will make you weep they’re so beautifully written. His reviews have been the kind a writer would frame and hang above his desk. He’s regarded as a darling in literary circles, well-liked by his peers, smart and intellectually thoughtful in ways that leave you wondering for months about something he said. So yesterday when I told him I was still revising my manuscript and feeling frustrated that I hadn’t hit the mark on the first round, he had another one of those profound moments. I can’t remember exactly what was said, just the import behind it. Perhaps we can all learn something from him, so to paraphrase:
Enjoy this time. Right now, there are no expectations of you. You are free to be as creative as you want, to take as much time as you need. There are no deadlines pressuring you to create. Your debut novel is your one best chance to make people sit up and take notice. It’s probably the most attention you’ll receive in your writing career, so make sure you get it right. After this, everyone, your agent, your editor, your reviewers will have expectations of you. So take your time and do what’s right for your book. Write the very best you can.
Wise words to be sure. I would take it one step further, however. Relax. Write the very best you can with each book. Take your time and avoid anyone else’s expectations. Have goals, but make sure they’re your own. Stay true to your story and to your self. Write for the pure joy it gives you.
Let that be enough – at least for today.
Tuesday, February 27, 2007