The Hard Part

Originally posted on January 6, 2011 at 3:31 PM

There are a lot of difficult things about being a beginning writer. Some of them are obvious and much talked about: finding the willpower to make yourself sit down and work, getting rejections, learning your craft, networking, landing an agent, etc. But for me personally, there are two things in particular that make what I do hard, and in a way, they both involve waiting. 1) Not having my writing read by people (at least not wide-spread), and 2) battling hope and disappointment.

I write because I love writing. I’m good at it, dedicated to it, and passionate about it. For me, there is something innately fulfilling about creating (and truly, I don’t know how anyone in the business survives without feeling that way; it’s too hard to be an “eh, okay” job). So to reiterate, I do not write for the sole purpose of being published. But I do desperately, whole-heartedly want to be read. Really, truly read by lots of people that I don’t even know. It’s different than sharing with my select few loved ones; it’s different than getting feedback at the critique groups. It’s the fulfillment of all this work. It’s the pieces’ destiny: to be read.

I don’t know quite how to explain that. There are plenty of people out there who write solely for themselves, and that’s fine. But that’s not what I want. I live for that spark of acknowledgement when someone gets exactly the humor I put down, or looks tense when they read an action scene, or tells me they cried, or laughs out loud. It’s like little broken pieces of myself come flying back to me and fit themselves in to make me more whole, more complete. There’s something achingly sad about working for years now to never have that. To put all of my effort and heart into these novels and stories and poems and not be able to share them. It breaks my heart a little bit.

And yes, I know I could post things on my website or on various websites just to have them read, but that’s not how I roll. It’s delayed gratification, I guess. I want the good stuff. I want someone to hold my physical book(s) in their hands and feel the cover as they read my words. I’m not willing to sacrifice that opportunity for a little feedback now. I’ll hold out. Which brings me back to the original point: the hardest part of this career choice, for me, is waiting.

It’s the same issue, in a way, as waiting for a yes or no once I’ve submitted something. Even though this technically falls under the same category of “waiting,” it isn’t the time that makes it hard. It’s the hope. Hope breaks my heart every time.

It’s oddly reminiscent, for me, of the hope and disappointment cycle of having an alcoholic dad. Every time he would try to sober up or go to a rehab clinic, I couldn’t help but hope. I couldn’t help it. No amount of cynicism or past lessons or logic could reason my emotions out of wishing with all of my heart that he would get better – that it would work this time. I loved my dad, and until the day he died, all I wanted was for him to be happy again, sober. And I don’t know what the cause-effect relationship of those experiences is with the submission-rejection relationship of my writing experiences, but I know it feels a lot alike. That knowledge that I shouldn’t get my hopes up – and that inability not to.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not in constant anguish to the degree I was with my dad. I’m jaded enough now (after at least 50 rejections for all my various projects, not even counting individual poems in annual contests, etc.) that I don’t get my hopes up for faceless agent queries. I don’t care about most individual poems, either, since I have so many to fall back on. But sometimes, when I fall in love with a particular agent or think a magazine is a perfect fit for a certain story or there’s a big poetry contest with my name on it… well, then I’m suddenly not so jaded.

And try as I might to busy myself during the waiting time or remind myself that my odds are 1 out of 10,000, I still can’t wait to hear yes or no. It’s just awful, because it’s almost always a no. How do you defend against that? The answer, I think, is that you can’t. Whether it’s praying for the chance of your dad getting better or waiting for the results of a national poetry contest, you just have to let yourself hope.

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