Writers know waiting. That breath-held feeling of waiting for The Call. It doesn’t matter what the call will be: the first feedback on a new book, an agent, a book deal, an award, the latest bestseller list. What matters is that you can’t write the blog post of “your story” until it comes.
I woke up that morning, you will write, and I was miserable. I had weathered dozens–nay, hundreds–of rejections and I was starting to wonder if it was all worth it. And then The Call came.
I worked as hard as I could work, wrote and revised thirty-three manuscripts, and the call never came. At that point, I realized it was never meant to be, and in the resultant soul searching, I made the decision to marry my high school principle and move to New Guinea to farm beets. I have never been happier.
In the meantime, you devour stories about The Call. They’re a small thrill of a vicariously ringing phone, and each one seems to give you a peek at what the holy grail should look like.
If you can just make it to that zen-peaceful state, the phone will ring. If you can just wring yourself out wholly dry and wear holes in your keyboard and dents in your fingerbones, the phone will ring. You try meditation. Yoga. You revise your old book. You write a new one. You workshop, network, conference. God help you, you network in a conference workshop. You pray. You give up religion. You give up religion and take up jogging. You give up jogging and take up whiskey.
Personally, the day I found myself copying inspirational quotes onto sticky notes and posting them around my desk, I knew I was dancing on the sharp edge of a breakdown. I knew that whatever that mystical pre-call mental state was, I wasn’t there.
The funny thing is, I’ve already gotten The Call several times in my life. Twice, I was working on writing at home. Once, I was working on a construction site in the middle of a godforsaken desert. Another time, I was at a rodeo in Canada. Another, when I was eating BBQ in New Orleans, listening to somebody jackhammer an old sidewalk to pieces. I mention this because none of those calls kept me from spending the better part of this year with my blood pressure hard-wired to my phone ringer.
Everyone who owns a Bic will tell you that it’s about the writing, not the accolades, whatever they may be. They are right. I’ve read very smart advice about this from very smart people, like:
Buddha: “All desire and hope leads to suffering.”
Anne Lamott: “Publication is not going to change your life or solve your problems. Publication will not make you more confident, or more beautiful and it will probably not make you any richer. Publication is not all it is cracked to be. But writing is.”
Writer personalities will do their thing with any level of success. I know this. I know this like I know if I ram my face into a piece of concrete, it won’t be the concrete that cries about it. I understand there is no such thing as having “made it” in writing. I fully realize I would be happier if I didn’t care about making it.
Here’s the problem.
I care. I give so many fucks about my writing, I have acres of fuck farms sprouting new bundles of fucks every second. I give so many fucks about my writing that I can’t write this sentence without thinking, “How much profanity is too much? Is that repetition or an effective motif? Should I delete that last ‘that’?”
So stand up and confess with me, folks, because my name is Michelle, and I don’t know how to stop giving a fuck about succeeding at writing.
I know somewhere, there are people bolted into Microsoft Word, their coffee going cold at their elbow, not even checking their email as they hammer out work they care about. The whole time letting go of the idea that it has to make money, or win awards, or be seen by anyone. I love those people. I admire them. And let’s be honest, I’m never going to invite them over for tea on a day when I feel like biting the face off Life.
Still, the day I sat there next to my silent phone, scribbling inspirational quotes on sticky notes reinforced with Scotch tape, I realized one thing. This is my story.
What do I mean by that?
We all do it: narrating our lives like there’s a great voice-over in our heads (and sometimes, a soundtrack). More often than I’d like to admit, I start my day by thinking, “What if today is the day?” What would my story look like then? What would the conclusion be? Anybody who has ever heard a story told badly knows the ending can make or break the entire thing.
Let’s be honest, there have been times when I’ve hit that dark moment where I think, “It would be so much easier to just give up.” Inevitably, as I’m thinking through what it would look like, my mind drifts and I start brainstorming ways to use that feeling of despair in a new story. I’m pretty sure that means I’m screwed.
I am a writer, and no one can take that from me–even though many days, I wish they would. If you can be something else, for the love of God, do it! You’ll make more money as a lawyer, and you’ll find a more reliable source of happiness in Netflix-binging. But if you’re like me, you’re stuck with writing in all its ecstasies and sorrows. That means I will always be writing, and I will always be waiting on the next The Call.
What I don’t have to do is wait for the Unicorn of Fate to come and take a rainbow-colored shit in my lap before I start living my life.
Today is the day. Will The Call come? Probably not. Would it fix all my problems if it did? Gods, no. Do I know enough of my story to write a blog post about it? Definitely.
Here’s my advice to you, friends. It’s not sunscreen, and it’s not meditation, though neither of those ever hurt. Decide what you want your ending to be, and make it be so.
Write it like a eulogy: James R. Bumgartener never gave up, and he did whatever the hell he wanted. The end. Patty M. McQueen followed her passion, and wrote 12 books about basil fertilizer that she loved more than her children—but please, don’t tell the children. The end. Raoul P. Hatnauster decided this publishing shit was for the birds, and instead of banging his head against the ever-growing wall of The Establishment, he took up eating brownies and wrote half a million words of brilliant Star Wars fanfiction to the accolades of delighted fans from Paraguay to Ohio. The end.
Decide who you want to be, and today, be that.
Look, I know this blog post won’t fix everything. I’ve fought back the urge to check my email for evidence of The Call three times—and given in a shameful once—since starting to write this. All I’m saying is, don’t wait for the call to tell you the end of your story.
You’re a writer. Write your own damn story.
**Update: Two days after I wrote the rough draft of this post, The Call I’ve been most recently waiting for came in. After that, I shrieked into the phone to my CP, ran sixteen laps around the apartment, then came back and read this post again to decide if it changed anything about the advice I had to share. It didn’t.**
***Double update: a few weeks after I got The Call in the last author’s note, the good news I got then fell through. I came back here to read this post again to decide if it changed anything about the advice I had to share. It didn’t.***
Bibliography (AKA: Things To Read When You’re Reaching For the Whiskey)
Dear Polly: Should I give up on my writing? –The most honest letter I’ve ever read about the joys and sorrows of a person in mid-career as a professional writer
Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott – A freaking hilarious book on writing and a writer’s life. If you don’t want to hug this girl and buy every book she’s ever written by the end of Chapter 3, you’re not even human.
F*ck that: a guided Meditation — a helpful video 😉 [Thank you, @cbhalverson]
Also read: Anything but your own ms for the 100th time. Seriously. I know the power of self-discipline and writing every day and that one last revision that turns out to be magic. Still, sometimes, you’ve just got to watch South Park. For me, it’s horseback riding. It’s the one time I forget about my characters and my career and my giant to-do list of edits and short stories and novels and things to edit for my CPs and read for my betas and I just ride. Find something like that. Writing lends itself to obsessing, and that’s not a healthy lifestyle.