Today, you will find me sitting here feeling grateful I stuck it out. Sitting here in that contemplative mood we writers get in when good things happen and/or when bad things happen and you can’t make sense between the two. Because you know it could have gone another way—easily.
In about a week the first book I wrote with my name on it will be in stores. This morning, someone showed me a picture of it on a bookstore shelf already. It’s a tween book. I never expected that would be my “first” book. It’s certainly not the first book I wrote.
I absolutely did not see this coming.
Just two years ago, I was in a different place. I wanted to give up. I kept hinting at it here. Maybe some of you reading this are writers too. Maybe you are right this very moment thinking of giving up, wondering what it might be like to let go. And would you regret it, or would you feel free?
Here’s a post I wrote in April of 2007:
The thought occurred to me yesterday morning, just after I finished reading a magical, thought-provoking story about a gang of young girls (“The Sisterhood of Night” by Steven Millhauser). I haven’t been a young girl in a long time, but I connected to the girls’ desire to disappear in the night. The girls in the story were ages 12, 13, 14, 15—ages I remember better than what I am now. This story settled into me quietly, which if you’ve read the story you’d know was fitting. I had a silent moment—there, at a corner table in the coffee shop, where it felt like no one could see me. My mind paused. Then I asked myself the big question:
What would happen if I gave up?
Just… decided I wasn’t going to try any longer. What would that be like?
On Friday I had been at work, where a pathetic cloud of doom had descended upon me, where I realized how unhappy I was and also that it didn’t matter, I should just do my job and keep doing my job and this is what had become of my existence: the doing of my job until it was time to go home and not do my job for a few hours. I don’t want to be so negative. For days all I’ve wanted to do is nap, which is very unlike me. I haven’t even wanted to read. You know there is a problem when you have no desire to read a book.
Truth is, I haven’t felt this down about myself for a long time, since, well… sometime around age 13 or 15. Still, back then, I had been so sure of where my future would take me. My writing future was my escape route, that’s how I made it through. I don’t begrudge my young self those fantasies—I love the idea of living for a fantasy—but enough time has passed that I can say with certainty that the fantasy did not come true. I mean, I’m not living in a cardboard box addicted to heroin, I’m not in prison, I’m not dead, so it didn’t fall to shreds either. It just… didn’t exactly happen the way I wanted it to.
So, I thought about what it would be like to not have this dream anymore. To not want to be a published author. To do something else—something more satisfying—with my life.
And at that I shrugged. The answer came easy: I’d still write.
I’d write short stories. I wouldn’t have to think about sending them out. I wouldn’t have to think about agents or books deals or writing a more marketable novel or making my characters more accessible or my voice less voicey or trying to write something to sell or selling anything at all or what people thought of me or, really, anything. I’d just write stories for myself because I like to. That’s it.
It sounds nice to think of it that way, giving up. There’s no longer any pressure—just art for art’s sake. In a way, it would be the most beautiful failure I could imagine for myself. And if I think of it that way, it couldn’t be called failure at all.
—April 8, 2007
I remember that day. How I was feeling. Ugh, I remember.
But something changed in me. I decided to adapt instead of giving up. To go at it another way. And that’s how DANI NOIR came to be. And that’s how this new novel came to be, the one that got me an agent almost exactly two years after I wrote that post, in April of 2009, the one that got me two cakes even though I’m not done writing it yet.
Two years later and nothing’s the same.
If someone had come up to me on that day I thought maybe it was time to give up—when I was sitting there in the coffee shop telling myself it would be nice to give up, that it wouldn’t hurt so bad, that I would be A-OK—if someone had said to me, Wait a couple years, you’ll see, I would have laughed. Or cried.
I’m not young. This has taken a lot of years out of me. And the thing is, I do think I would have survived had I listened to myself and stopped trying to publish. If I didn’t ever send anything out, didn’t query agents, wrote only to write because I love writing and showed no one but my friends and my husband. I could have been as happy as I am right now—you know what? I could have been happier.
But that’s the thing: I couldn’t do it. I absolutely could not stop trying. I hope I would still be trying even if Simon & Schuster said no to DANI NOIR and if every agent I queried this spring rejected me and if no one wanted IMAGINARY GIRLS and even if everyone I knew pulled me aside for an intervention and told me, “You suck. Go home. Become a dental technician.”
(Nothing against dental technicians. That’s just something someone in my family told me I should be when I was a teenager when I had dreams of being a writer. Needless to say, I did not listen.)
I hope I would still be trying if all of the above happened, but I can’t know that.
I had a lucky break that led to more lucky breaks. For everyone out there flirting with the idea of giving up, I hope you get a break, and soon. Even if it looks odd to you—if maybe it’s not the exact thing you thought you wanted, like you wanted the color blue and this thing’s pink and you can’t decide if you should wear it anyway. You might want to just put it on. Give it a shot.
Turns out pink was my color all along.