At the time I thought of writing this post, I didn’t know we’d be on the tail end of Frankenstorm when it aired. So perhaps it was fate that made me ditch the first ten or so post ideas I had before deciding on something that is, ultimately, a painful reflection on one of the darkest periods of my writing career thus far. But this isn’t meant to be a downer, that’s not my style. Chin up, fair writers. Sometimes we need the dark to appreciate the light, or a cold, hard rain to appreciate a warm embrace from the sun.
The journey to publication has felt like an unending storm with several eyes of calm that like to tease you long enough to restore your hope and motivation, then disappear again. So many things have changed even in the short time since I’ve begun. You must blog–it doesn’t matter if you blog. You must tweet–it doesn’t matter if you tweet. You must join Facebook–it doesn’t matter if you join Facebook. This critique partner loves your opening, that beta reader hates it. Print versus ePub, agent versus indie, traditional versus self-pub… I lost my sanity long ago. Only the craziest of us have stuck it out.
These things rain down on us, daily. Sometimes a drizzle, sometimes a torrent. Personally, the entire year of 2011 felt like a flood of confusion, and most of it came from my own head. I didn’t realize it at the time, but that was the year I’d reached a crossroads in my writing journey. One way led to immediate failure (giving up), the other led to success (at some indistinct point in the future). I’m sure every writer comes to this junction at some time or another. Perhaps even several times.
The most unfortunate part of this crossroads is that it finds you at your weakest. You’ve had success in the past (that you will never take for granted), and this tricks you into believing that you should be further along your path than you really are. You’ve also been writing long enough that you’ve moved beyond the basics and feel brave enough to take some writerly risks. So you do. And then those risks come back to bite you in the ass.
What once felt like courage is now labeled foolishness.
It’s easy to complain your way through this kind of storm, or to blame it on something out of your control, like an ever-changing industry. But that essentially gets you nowhere, or worse, sends you backwards. The more difficult action is to board up your writing cave, lock yourself inside, and analyze where you went wrong. Where YOU went wrong, no one else.
But you are so sick of looking at this dreck you’ve been slaving over that you have to let it go (just for a moment, dear novel, I promise I’ll come back to you). Once you release the biggest of your worries, the others are easy. One by one you tuck them away, somewhere safe yet out of sight, until all you have left is a clear mind and a blank page.
And that’s when the magic happens. Suddenly the wind stops howling and a sliver of light spears through a window that, in your hurried desperation, had been boarded crookedly. Ahead of you is rain, behind you is more rain, but right now, in the eye of the storm, the sun is shining on your face. This new warmth is all you can feel, and from it is borne something you couldn’t have created without first weathering a hurricane.
Every sentence is fluid, every story element snaps into place. When you reach The End you know you’ve just witnessed a rare miracle. You don’t expect it to ever be this easy again, but you’ve also been forever changed by the experience, for the better.
They say writing is a lonely venture, and for the most part I believe it should be. Because it isn’t until you shut everything else out that you find something special inside you, and only you, that brings your stories to life.
While 2011 was my darkest year so far, 2012 has been my brightest. That storm has passed, and the story I wrote during the eye of it is going to be published later this month. I’d written it just for me (as a break from a novel I still refer to as my Problem Child) and now I get to share it with the world.
So if you find yourself in the midst of a publishing storm, and you most certainly will from time to time, just remember that it will not last forever. That isn’t the way the world works. Even something as strong as a hurricane will eventually pass on through. And sometimes you may find that the sun still shines when it’s raining.