It's strange, this writing business. First of all, the two words together: writing, creative, wonderful, strange, making something out of nothing, embroidering words on to thoughts and feelings. And business, practical, pragmatic, dare I say stodgy even?
When I am writitng, around the time I come to the 50% mark I am convinced I am producing trite, banal, prose, wrapped around a weak, skeletal core of pretentious plot and undifferentiated characters. Still I guard it jealously. It might be horrid but it's mine. My creation. I am the god of this universe, baby! And it might be the ugliest baby ever but it's mine. Mine! Damnit!
Then I hibernate. I put it away, determined to put it in the recycle bin. But maybe I'll read it again. I do, in weeks or months.
Then I thnk, Meh, maybe it's not totally irredeemable. So I polish, refine, step back and go, okay, maybe I'll show it around town. So I slap on a tasseled bonnet, wipe its face clean of extra prepositions, sprinkle in some commas and take it for a ride in a writer's group. My insides clench, my gut twists. Hey, that wasn't so bad. People responded to it.
So I work some more, change something here, edit, add, take away. Like Michelangelo cutting away the excess marble to uncover David who was always there, so do I. Except, I ain't no Michelangelo, and nothing I've ever created could even hope to be in the same universe. But I sorta, kinda get the feeling.
Somewhere along the line, I lose that jealousy. It goes from being my creation to taking fledgling steps towards becoming a product. This is when I venture further afield. Truly I can go for months, even years, writing and never sending in anything to be published. And yes, the reward is in the process itself. The turn of a phrase, the way the words flow, the people come to life, the truths excavated. Ah the bliss! But one day something inexplicable happens and the elusive hunt for the agent begins. Like a coin falling into a slot.
Rejections come in, but sprinkled in between are requests for partials, and then, requests for the complete manuscript. I feel close. I want my baby to soar, beyond my hold, beyond even my critique group. I want to set it free. Is this when ego steps in?
Writing is an exercise in self-deprivation while feeding the soul. There is no ego, there is only judging and mis-judging, the hours that fly by unnoticed, the sense of satisfaction when a sentence flows out smoothly, when words mold around thought like putty.
But somewhere along the line a story becomes a product, something that can be sold. That must be where it connects to my ego, when it begins to leech out the pleasure of it, while promising dreams in return. Dreams like lottery tickets. And I, hunched over, matching numbers, wanting it bad.
Damnit! I *want*--so bad I can taste it--it, my story, to go places. Okay, I don't want some humungous advance but a star agent and a decent contract from a respectable published would be appreciated. I've been published since I was 13. I've put in my time, written crap assignments, produced on deadline, waited. Oh god, how I've waited. I am owed this. Why should others have it and not me? Why? Then I ask myself: Who owes this to me? The world of publishing? The world at large? Who?
No one. That's who.
No one owes me a book deal. And that's the scariest part. There is no blame here. No accounting for personal taste, no recrimination to fate or talent or the judgment of others or the alignment of the stars. I want to isolate the exact point at which my creation became a monster for my ego. I can't. I don't want to.
For egoes are fragile, egoes can be hurt, hurt badly. Is this why this excerpt of a letter from an un-named star agent hurts?
"Thank you very much for sending me your novel, AN INCOMPLETE UNIVERSE and your great patience while waiting for me to get back to you. I thought you did a terrific job of capturing the rhythms of life in that city. You also created an extraordinary cast of characters, spanning a variety of class, religious and ethnic backgrounds, and bringing to life people and situations that haven’t been explored very much in English language fiction. There is so much to admire here. It is therefore, with considerable regret that I must pass on the opportunity to represent you."
It goes on, sensitive, complimentary but ultimately rejecting me. Some would term it a wonderful rejection letter. But it's still a rejection.
So, here's my tally:
Agents queried: 20
Queries disappeared into black hole: 11
Requests for partials: 4
Rejections of partials: 2
Requests for complete manuscript: 3
Rejection of complete manuscript: 1
After the rest of the partial/complete manuscript rejections come in, I will query 20more. Then perhaps some more. I'm not sure. Already that madness is starting to fade. This quest feels empty somehow, unfulfilling. I will continue to edit and refine An Incomplete Universe. It needs it.
And sometime next month, I will start plotting my next book. I am happiest writing. That's the fun part, the soul part, the part that invades my sleep, that brings the flash of phrase, the look of a character as the sun glints over the distant snow as I drive. The part that connects me to the universe in some elemental way.
This product part sucks. It really does. But I am compelled to do it. We are all elements of our own dichotomous natures after all.