detour

Genetically, I am not a stop and smell the roses kind of gal. I wish I were. I have tried to be. But genes are a weird and powerful thing, and my DNA says I’m more of a “sprint past those roses and think, ‘gosh, I bet those would have smelled nice’” kind of person.

I envy the roses-smellers of the world. Those who don’t worry so much about where, precisely, they are going, how long it will take to get there, the distance between semi-clean restrooms. I envy those who don’t worry about packing sufficient, fiber-filled snacks for the road. About packing mittens and sunscreen and Chap Stick and breath mints, just in case. I envy travelers who believe that the real joy in any journey lies in getting lost. I don’t care for getting lost. I’m just someone who appreciates knowing where she is at all times.

So it’s interesting to me that I am a writer. Because (and you may have already noticed this) for most of us, the road to publication is long, meandering and surprisingly indirect. Restrooms on this journey are sporadic. Cell coverage is spotty. Perhaps for lunch, the only thing for miles is a dicey-looking gas station manned by a hungry-looking fellow named Russ who sells me a bag of Funyuns for a buck nineteen.

The funny thing? I knew it would be tough to get published. As a no-name without fancy connections or credentials, I was aware the odds were small and low. I knew this.

But I was someone who Accomplished Goals. I was a High Achiever, a Hard Worker. When I got my first agent four years ago, I really and truly believed my hard work and goal-accomplishing would result in a book deal. Most likely a huge book deal that would allow me and my husband to travel in South America for a year or two. A book deal that would allow me to get an unlimited data plan for my phone and a new laptop that wasn’t missing the F12 key. I had done my 10,000 hours of practice, and while getting a novel published was hard, I figured it was hard for those who hadn’t worked their tails off.

Yes, you know where this is going.

Here’s the weird thing: while there has been no book deal, there has been so much more than a book deal. While I find myself on a journey I didn’t intend or initially want, I am overwhelmed by the number of roses I have encountered along the way. And oftentimes the scent, when I pause and notice, smells even better than book deals, new laptops or South American sabbaticals.

Some days, of course, the journey totally stinks. It stinks so bad that I truly wish I had never allowed myself the opportunity to get the writing bug. I wish I had never told anyone I was working on a novel.

But on a lot of other days, the journey is joy-filled and thrilling. Instead of that book deal, I have had an unexpected (and necessary) four years of practicing my craft. Four years of learning how the publishing industry works. Four years of studying constructive rejections, trying to see how I can improve my work.

Four years of waiting has allowed time for skin-thickening treatments and frequent gut checks. Four years of receiving encouraging “keep writing, and please let me see your next book” rejections from dozens and dozens of editors. Four years of figuring out why I write. Four years of reminding myself why I write. And re-reminding. And re-reminding some more. Four years of accepting this truth: I can write a book that agents and editors love, and it still might not sell.

Four years of exercising my Hope muscles. My Trust muscles. Four years of getting humbled and persevering and learning. Four years of learning to balance hope and realism. Four years of feeling grateful to those who still ask, “Hey, what’s going on with the writing?”

Four years of learning that the real miracle of writing a book is just that: writing a book. A complete book. The miracle is not getting published so quickly. I see that now.

So what’s next? My agent is pitching my second book. I am working on my third and trying to catch whiffs of whatever rosey foliage grows under dreary December-in-Seattle skies. Meanwhile, my craft keeps improving, I have time to pay writerly kindness forward and backward, and my Hope and Trust muscles are so massive I might get drafted by the Seahawks.

As for my hungry-looking friend, Russ? Sometimes I actually let myself get a little lost on this windy road to publication, just so I have an excuse to pull into the service station, fill up my tank, and share a bag of Funyuns and some drip coffee with Russ. Coffee and Funyuns? The smell’s even sweeter than roses.

Your turn. What have YOU learned or experienced as a result of not-so-immediate gratification? What have been some silver linings on your road to publication? Please share, dear friends and readers, so we know we’re not alone on this journey.

 

Photo courtesy of Flickr’s Michael W. May.

About Sarah Callender

Sarah Callender lives in Seattle with her husband, son and daughter and is currently working on a novel titled BETWEEN THE SUN AND THE ORANGES. Sarah is a terrible house-cleaner, a lover of chocolate and hats, and a self-professed cheapskate who has no trouble spending money on good chocolate and hats.