Thursday, December 31, 2009

So the Thing Is...I'm a Novelist

Let me begin with apologies and a hat tip to my favorite blogger, Barb Cooper, who would have a trademark on the phrase "So, the thing is..." if it weren't too common to be protectable. I've really endeavored to avoid that phrase in my writing over the past six or seven years, since I was first introduced to Barb's funny and enlightening column. But the truth is, I used it a lot before I met Barb, and sometimes it's simply called for. In this case, I think it's especially appropriate because Barb's column was all about underlying truths, and this is a big one.

I've made my living in a variety of ways, from making salads to practicing law and virtually everything in between. I've taught, trained, consulted, written curriculum and I've answered phones, placed calls, run cash registers, poured coffee, sorted mail, typed letters and even fried eggs. And, for many years, I've been fortunate enough to make my living writing.

I've written for newspapers, magazines and websites. I've written educational materials, consumer legal information, parenting articles, musician bios, writing and publishing advice, local histories, and profiles...and those are just some of the things I've been paid for writing. I even wrote a book. And the fact that I'm able to make my living working with words is an unbelievable blessing.

But here's the thing: I'm a novelist. I wrote my first novel at 10. I wrote most of another one in college and finished one while I was practicing law. I finished another one during NaNo six or seven years ago and a third during the same period three years ago. I also have a fourth half-finished and a fifth barely begun but which I'm entirely in love. Whenever I get a free minute, I write a novel...and I almost mean that literally, since two of my novels have been written in less than a month while I was working full time.

Here's what I don't do: I don't sell them. It isn't that I CAN'T sell them (or at least, if it is that, I haven't found it out yet). It's simply that in almost two decades of writing novels, I've sent out exactly three submissions. And guess what? The only novel I've ever submitted is the one that I care least about, the one that I'm not invested in.

Sounds like fear, I know, but I think it's just laziness. See, a funny thing happens to me when I write a piece, whether it's a book or an article or a blog post. I finish it, and then it's over for me. I move on. I don't look back. I've never read most of my articles in print; I don't even have copies of most of them. It's all in the writing for me.

But a long time ago I had to make a decision about writing. I never needed anyone to read what I wrote and so I didn't bother to publish for a long time...and then I realized that so long as I didn't sell my writing, I was always going to have to do something else for a living. I realized that publishing was the ticket to having time to write. For some reason, it's taken me another decade to realize that that principle extends to novels, too...and it's novels I really want to be writing.

So this is it. It's purely coincidence that this realization dawned on New Year's Eve, and I don't make New Year's resolutions. But this year, I'm going to start acting like a novelist.

1 comment:

Toad Tryouts said...

I am in awe of someone like yourself who "never needed anyone to read what I wrote". As many others I feel that there is at least one book inside me waiting to come out.

So I sit down and start to think about writing something. Then I think about all the time that it will take to produce something worthwhile. I have a Protestant work ethic which demands that I do something useful with my time. If I do manage to produce something good then it has to be of use to someone, people have to read it. But the chances of this are low. So I do not start writing.

I envy you! I hope that your New Year resolution comes true and that you get published.