The Writing Life Sucks.
Updated: Mar 28
It sucks you in.
It chews you up.
It spits you out.
And yet, you keep writing.
The definition of insanity is continuing to do the same thing over and over and expecting different results. So, writers are by definition: insane. When my meds are working, I’m privileged and honored to be a part of that group—those dogged scribes who persevere against the darkness and wield their pens as mighty swords against ignorance and oppression, or perhaps, let’s be honest, just to become the next Colleen Hoover or Kristin Hannah. When I’m out of Prozac and bourbon, I feel like the tree falling in the forest without anyone around. Did anyone hear me hit the pine needles? Is anyone coming to rescue me? It’s mighty lonely in the vast wilderness of publishing.
That’s where I’m at today, after losing months of my life trying to understand how to use digital media to promote my next book or make connections with influencers or shoot a video vertically and add Brandi Carlile music to it. And WTF is a hashtag? All of it seems quite futile, but once you get to this part of the path, it’s impossible not keep walking to end of the trail and hope your car will still start once you get there.
No one really feels bad for writers, but they are the toughest sorry bastards I know. Walk into any bookstore (thank them for their service), and you’ll find hundreds or thousands of books. Major publishers put out close to 1 million new titles every single year. That, my friends—is an Alaska-sized backcountry you can truly get lost in. Writers write to be read, and also sometimes, to stop all the voices trapped inside our heads. To write a book, requires dedication and perseverance, think Cheryl Strayed in Wild (see, name-dropping here so I can hashtag it later, as soon as I figure out how to do that). To get an agent, is climbing Everest without supplemental oxygen (think panic attacks and gasping for air like Jon Krakauer in Into Thin Air). To have the book bought by a publishing house and published, is like landing on Mars and walking around in a really cool spacesuit. You’re euphoric, light-headed, floating on air, until you realize you’ve been abandoned and are scared shitless of the unknown (like Andy Weir’s The Martian).
Once the book is in galley form, you have to pretend to be an extrovert, asking other, way-more-famous authors and media personalities to “blurb” your book. A blurb is a quote you can use on the cover of your book and on marketing materials that basically says that your book is a page-turner that changes lives and will do light housekeeping. Stephen King blurbs something every day, but frankly he frightens me, so I’m not asking him. I’ll stick with Anne Lamott and Barbara Kingsolver because they seem to be kind people, and they wear approachable, flowing clothing.
The galleys or ARCS (advanced reader copies) are sent out to magazines and book clubs (Reese, Jenna, GMA, and Oprah) that need longer lead times to decide if they’re going to review or select your book when it hits the shelves six months from now. Newspapers and digital media can wait to reject you until the last minute. Once your book comes out, you return from your whirlwind trip around the universe to see whether or not critics like your book (or ignore it altogether) and finally, whether or not an actual reader purchases it, reads it, and likes it.
So, as I writer, by the time your book comes out, you’ve faced the following:
Self-rejection. Why am I writing this? It sucks. It’s taking forever. Was I supposed to pick up our son from school today? I smell popcorn.
Agent rejections. The material didn’t move me. You smell of elderberry. I’m on the slopes in Aspen and will never get back to you one way or another. I’ll take this project on if you agree to do three more years of revisions—during which time I will ask you to change from past to present tense and delete a main character, before telling you that it worked better the first way you had it.
Editor rejections. I have to believe in a book 100% to champion it, and sadly, I thought your book was a word salad with rancid dressing. The material didn’t speak to me. My list is full. I might be willing to take a look at this again if you make certain changes. I know I asked you to make changes, but there was never a guarantee. You should have added zombies. It still doesn’t work. I’m off to lunch with Matthew McConaughey and Prince Harry.
Book club selection committees and magazine editor responses…zzzzzz.
Reader reviews on Goodreads:
It’s your mother, sweetie. I was going to recommend your new book to my book club, but you didn’t thank me first in the acknowledgments.
Hi sexy, I love your author photo and would like to be friends.
I’ve written a book just like yours, would you be willing to blurb it for me?
You are eligible for a tax refund if you contact me at this number before Friday.
That mole on your left cheek in your author photo looks suspicious. You should have that checked out. It’s your mother again, sweetie.
7. Book sales rankings on Amazon by category:
#1,620,000 in LGBTQ+ Memoirs Set in Texas with a Cat
#3,000,542 in Novel Writers Who Don’t Understand Social Media
#6,000, 752 in Fans of Colleen Hoover Who Hate Your Ass-Face
#2 in Novels Your Own Mother Didn’t Purchase
#1 in Books Sold (by postal code error) in Lttoqqortoormiit, Greenland
I don’t write any of this to dissuade people from writing. If you’re a writer, it’s what you do. You can’t NOT do it. Which brings me back to my original definition of sanity. Successful authors, like Bonnie Garmus (Lessons in Chemistry), Ann Napolitano (Hello, Beautiful, Oprah’s hundredth book club pick) and yes, Colleen Hoover (It Ends With Us) were rejected by editors over and over again, but they kept at it, until they got on that best-seller list. So, call me crazy (and many people do), because I’m not alone. I’m in good company, and not only that—I have a years’ worth of prescription refills and a new therapist on call. I Am Ready. Oh, and finally, P.S. shameless plug: Only you can save me, so please pre-order my book, The Wind Will Catch You and tell your friends, and post this on social media, and tell Reese to call me. The End.
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