3.24.2020

Before the Adulation

While writing, we all slip into moments of fantasy, imagining what will happen after the manuscript is published. The publisher will throw a fancy New York party peopled with distinguished editors and literary agents. People will line up out the door of a bookstore in a faraway city, and one woman will positively gush about how much she liked the book, so much so that you’re embarrassed sitting at your desk. You remember that Ken Follett has his own island off the French coast and imagine: I guess I could live like that.

All of that is very pleasant, but what happens if you fall short? Maybe you can’t sell the manuscript to a publisher. You might not even land an agent. You decide to go indie, but a mere smattering of research will reveal the daunting truth: selling a book is hard work. Maybe you only sell enough copies to pay off your expenses in producing the ebook.

Was it all a waste of time? To borrow a phrase, I would say, a thousand times, no. You still spent all of those countless hours immersed in a dream of your own making. You stretched yourself to create interesting characters, interesting plot turns. I’ll be honest, I’m always disappointed when I reach the end of a manuscript. My interest in it declines sharply after that. Because the excitement really lies in riding the edge of the wave, keeping it going. You can write for the world, but you already know that the world will most likely shrug.

When writing gets in your blood, the routine becomes a source of, in Eastern terms, bliss. I put it in that peculiar way because the practice of writing is like the Buddhist practice of mindfulness. As a writer, your moments of triumph are going to be very few. Virtually everything you do is part of an ongoing process. It’s the hum, so to speak. When you open yourself up to tap into that current, you find that you—the person, not the writer—are enriched.

“There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.”
― Ernest Hemingway

Copyright @ 2020, John Paine

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