Friday, July 03, 2009

Thoughts on My Writing Journey

Today's post is a bit different (sorry for last time's cliff hanger ending; I'll resolve that next week).

Something's been bouncing around my brain as I realized that some people who are not in the publishing industry might view some of these posts in a light that I never intended, especially if they haven't read all twenty posts in the series (or whatever number we're at now).

First, a story. I promise, it's relevant.

Back when I had several tiny kids, I was part of a neighborhood book club. We got together once a month and, of course, talked about whatever book we'd read. Inevitably, as happens when you get a lot of women together, discussion often meandered into motherhood.

No mother in the group had a teen yet; we were all in the grade school or younger era, most with babies. So we had lots of talk about sleep deprivation and potty training woes and colic and vomiting and trying to get crayon off walls and how to unclog toilets after kids had flushed down a variety of things, and so forth.

One woman in the club wasn't a mother, but not for lack of trying. She and her husband had yearned for years to have a child, and every time talk veered into the whining and complaining about sleepless nights or tantrums, I could see her stiffen and her jaw clench. She never said anything aloud, but I could just read her thoughts.

She would have given anything to have a month of sleepless nights if it meant she had her own baby. She would love to have an uncooperative toddler to potty train. Crayon on the wall? Bring it on. How dare we complain about what she wanted so badly?

But here's the golden question: Did we not appreciate motherhood?

At moments, perhaps. Did we not want it? Of course we did. If you took any of those women aside and asked them what their most precious possession was, I think each one of them would have given the same answer in a heartbeat: "my children."

We loved our kids. We adored them. We were grateful for them. Perhaps we at times took them for granted, but we would never, ever give them up or devalue them.

On the other hand, motherhood, while one of the most rewarding things ever, is hard. Children are a sacrifice. Motherhood comes with problems that, going in, you never could have anticipated because you've never been there.

It's common for people to compare publishing a book to giving birth. I'm going to take that analogy a bit further.

Aspiring writers are sometimes like that woman in our book club, wanting so badly to have what the others around her do: a contract. And they can be shocked when they hear a writer complaining about their agent or the marketing department or whatever else. They'd kill for an agent or [fill in the blank].

But here's the thing: publishing is very much like parenthood. It doesn't end when you sign that contract on the dotted line (or when you bring the baby home from the hospital). You're embarking on a brand new journey you know very little about, one that has ups and downs you cannot fathom yet, because you haven't been there and have no clue what you're in for.

It's so much more than getting a book on a shelf.

I spent EIGHT YEARS submitting and getting rejected. You can believe me when I say that I don't for one second take for granted the place I'm in. If you've read this entire series, I think you know that. I scraped and clawed my way to where I am. And the view here is fantastic.

But at the same time, I'm no longer in the place of "aspiring writer." I'm a published writer. It's now a job and a career. It's work. I have a whole new host of issues to grapple with. Much like the mother who has her child grow from six months to six years to sixteen yearsof age, I have new problems and difficulties pop up with each stage of my career.

Back to the mother in our book club. Through the miracle of modern medicine, she was able to have two little girls. While they were still toddlers, she tried for another baby. AND GOT QUADRUPLET BOYS.

I have a sneaking suspicion that she had her moments of complaining . . . just like (horror!) we'd complained.

Surely, if anyone had sleepless nights, she did. Not to mention constant diaperings and feedings and so on. I imagine potty training in that house three years later was interesting to say the least.

I'm guessing she developed some empathy for the rest of us mothers in that group who just needed a little validation that, at times, mothering is hard work.

Did this woman not want those children after years of infertility? Of course not. Did she love all of them and passionately adore them? Yes, absolutely. But that doesn't mean that raising them was a cakewalk or that she didn't have her moments of whining even though having a passel of kids was exactly what she'd wanted for years.

In publishing, when you finally get that contract, you won't live life in a jetted tub, eating bon bons as you type your next Great American Novel because your life is now perfect.

I'll never, ever forget the work it took to get where I am. I still remember the exact spot I was standing when I got that acceptance phone call for my first book . . . and the way I squealed like a three-year-old when I hung up. I appreciate every tiny thing my colleagues, editors, and publisher have done to help me along the way.

But I'm still working. The journey is not over. And that won't change, no matter how grateful I am that I have another book coming out in March, no matter how thrilled I am that I just published another article or got hired to do another freelance edit. There's another hill to climb or another pit that's in my way, some new river to cross, a difficult decision to be made.

I challenge anyone to find the perfect career (including motherhood) that doesn't have those blips and difficult moments.

As you likely know, I belong to the LDStorymakers, which is essentially a guild for LDS writers. We have nearly 100 members now. We celebrate one another's successes just as greatly as our first ones, because they still mean that much to us.

But you know what? There are a lot of problems popping up regularly (I'd say close to daily) on our e-mail list. We help each other through those as well. It's not all sunshine and rainbows.

I love what I do. That's why I do it, even in the harder moments.

For the aspiring writers out there, just be prepared for it: the hard times will come even after you sign on the much-anticipated dotted line.

It's called life. But that doesn't mean you aren't loving it and appreciating it.

20 comments:

Kimberly said...

This post is fabulous in so many ways, Annette. I love the preexisting analogy you've breathed new life into, and the way you've made understanding of the writing/publishing world accessible to so many of us.

I do think that for me, this is an area where my natural pessimism helps and hinders. I expect it to be hard work on the other side of the dotted line, and so I'm kind of scared to chase after it. Funnily enough though, your honesty doesn't scare me off further. Rational fears are much more easily faced that irrational ones.

Stephanie Black said...

Very well said, Annette! And great analogy.

Laura said...

I can really relate to this post, on so many levels!!!
First, I was that mom wanting kids, adopted my first, then modern med miracles for the rest.
No kids to now five kids. Full time teacher to full time mom.
I was that writer, then the sudden contract and a whole new set of issues. I never knew how many things I would have to figure out and deal with on a daily basis.

There are so many steps in writing. Even having a book published doesn't mean you've met all your dreams, or reached all your goals as an author. For me, it is only the first baby step.

I guess I'm still new enough at this that I can't offer much advice. Kind of like a new mom with my first baby. I'm still learning, working hard and wondering if I'll ever get as far as I hope.

Cheryl said...

I agree with Kimberly --this post was fabulous!!

Annette, the analogy can fit in so many other aspects of life, too (marriage, college, any career, owning a home, etc.).

Loved it.

Becky said...

Truth well told. Great post Annette!

Josi said...

You explained that PERFECTLY! I tried yesterday to show the other side of my some-what whiny post from earlier this week and couldn't make it sound right. THIS is it. Very well said.

Shauna said...

Hope you have a great 4th of July weekend :)

Cynthia said...

I've been that book club non-Mother. Almost quit going to Church because of it. I think your analogy of writing/Motherhood is spot on.

Thankfully, we didn't end up with quads (just twins and a single) but I can assure you that I complain about the pains of Motherhood plenty- even though it was what I wanted.

I can also vouch for the fact that I appreciate the opportunity so much more than I would have if not for the struggle. I suspect you enjoy your writing success the same way. And you should. You desserve to be proud of your hard work.


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Tristi Pinkston said...

Beautifully put, Annette. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

L.T. Elliot said...

Annette, I can say with full honesty that I have never perceived you to be a person who wasn't grateful for the journey. In every word and post, I know you pay homage to the trial. I know you are grateful for the hardships and the joys. It is this very reason that I became a follower in the first place. I came across a post in your "writing journey" that spelled that out for me.

You got it. You appreciated it. You didn't give up. And enjoy your writing as I may, I enjoy you as a person even more. I respect you and look up to you as a writer and woman. You're my gold standard. Should I ever cross my "dotted line" I only hope that I can do it with the grace, gratitude, and loveliness with which you have.

Thank you can never be enough but I'll say it anyway: Thank you, Annette.

Summer said...

Fantastic post! Thanks for the behind the scenes look at the difficulties. I'm going to keep trying for it anyway. :)

Heatherlyn said...

I think that is a perfect analogy!

Jenna Consolo said...

Very, very, very well said! The analogy was perfect.

Lara said...

This can be applied to so many different things in life. I have found that those who don't have to work very hard for their successes don't appreciate them nearly as much as those who do. However...you're right. Once we have success, doesn't mean that things aren't going to be difficult with whatever it is we've been successful at. We all have our trials, and it is part of life.

Such wisdom you have. :)

Amber Lynae said...

Annette- I am very upset to read all of your endless complaining about how you hate the publishing process and being a mother is too hard for you......(TYPED IN JEST)

I can tell from you words in all of your writing journey post that you love what you do, and you cherish being a mother. Your success has been a matter of talent and work. You are an amazing woman. (I hope you kept reading to realize my initial sentence was typed in complete jest.)

Michemily said...

I just wanted to let you know that Reed Glauser, my granpda, passed away last week. He loved your books.

Annette Lyon said...

Michemily, Thank you so much for letting me know--I had no idea. Your grandfather was one of the sweetest men I've ever known. What a sad loss.

Chas Hathaway said...

What a great post. So true! Though I can only say it from the aspiring side. Also, there is no golden ticket - no secret back door.

There may be different paths to publication, but none are a cakewalk. Sooner or later, if you experience success, it is through suffering and challenge - it is through patience and persistence that success comes.

Whether a person takes the industry road, the independent road, the self-publishing road, or some other road (such as full-time blogger, newspaper editor, or script writer), it is clear to me that becoming a full-time writer takes a LOT of hard work.

Thanks for the insight!

- Chas

amelia said...

Loved this. Perfect and so true.

leeann said...

Thank you for this post, Annette. I felt so guilty for so long about complaining about my kids after years of wanting to be married and to have children. You explain what I felt perfectly. (I do try to check the complaints because I know what it would be like without them, but sometimes they slip out.)

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