This post is a product of a conversation I had with a friend who has decided to give up writing. Bummed me out. She's really talented - great insight, quirky humor, sense of the dramatic and adventurous is spot on. She'd set a goal in January of finishing her second book by October and entering it in the Golden Heart. Didn't make it so now she's done. Makes me sad and also makes me wonder.
At what point is it time to throw in the towel and what reason is good enough to give up on something you've worked so hard to attain?
How many of you enjoy every minute of writing, every minute of the process? For how many of you is it fun every day and you jump up ready to get at it and don't want to get out of the chair, even to go to the bathroom?
When I was in high school I was in the marching band. Fortunately I played the clarinet. Not a particularly heavy instrument to carry around in 100 degree heat in Alabama in August. I felt really badly for the tuba players. All that weight on their shoulders and standing at attention for hours on end. As we stood in formation in the boiling heat, sweat dripping while our director stepped off the next formation we used to ask each other in sneaky whispers "Are we having fun yet?" The answer was always "Not yet, but it's coming." Until we heard a resounding thud and the sound of a big bell tolling. One of the tuba players had hit the dirt, bell first, and the baritone sax player would say "NOW, we're having fun."
Writing is kind of like that. You write and write and write. You suffer the tortures of hell. It's fun if you and your fellow writers can commiserate. Sometimes you get to perform and everyone applauds. Sometimes you have to stand there and boil and let a master step off what you do next. And sometimes it gets so bad you feel like a tuba player in full gear going down for the count. Is any of it fun? All of it? Why do you keep doing it?
How about our published authors? You've got the contract. You have made it! Does it get any better? Any worse? Are deadlines killing you? Are there times you are ready to throw in the towel because it isn't fun or you think you'll never top what you did in your first book or you can't finish books as quickly as Nora Roberts? I mean Harper Lee wrote ONE book. One! It won a Pulitzer Prize. Talk about pressure. Was she having fun? Did she enjoy the process. How long did it take her to write the book and why didn't she write anything else? Ever wonder? I have.
I take about 8 months to a year to write a book. Eight months to a year of every minute of my free time and I produce ONE BOOK. I've produced three since I started this writing thing almost four years ago. That is SLOW. I hear about other people writing books in three months and I am amazed. And scared. And slightly ticked off at their ability to do so, but I'll get over that. One day. And how many books do you write without getting one published before you finally say "I'm not cut out for this."? By the way, what's the longest you've taken to finish a book? The shortest? Be truthful, even if the rest of us might throw rocks at you.
I started training to be an opera singer at the age of sixteen. I began auditioning for roles with opera companies at the age of twenty. I was invited to audition at the Met in New York at the age of twenty-five. I sang beautifully. Didn't get the part or the contract. I auditioned for years. Got some nice compliments. Got some raves. Got some "Don't call us, we'll call you's." What I didn't get was a contract or a role. I was twenty-nine when I sang my debut role as the Queen of the Night in Mozart's Die Zauberflote in Austria. For those of you who don't know, twenty-nine is OLD for a soprano to debut.
And all of those hokey movies are true. When you are a singer you spend hours singing scales over and over again. You do vocal exercises. You spend hours listening to recordings of operas. You spend hours alone in a practice studio, just you and a piano and teach yourself the entire score of a 3 to 5 hour opera all by yourself. You rehearse with a pianist. You rehearse with a vocal coach. You eat, sleep and drink opera. You drag yourself (and sometimes your husband or your parents) all over the country to audition for bored opera directors who act like they are doing you a favor by listening to you. It is NOT fun. It is lonely, hard, sometimes depressing work. And many of my fellow aspiring singers fell by the wayside. Some of them were far more talented than I. Better looking too. (In the States that matters. In Europe all they want to know is can you sing and you can you sing over a 250 piece orchestra without a mike.)
Why did I stick with it? I have no idea. Can't decide if I was stupid, naive, stubborn, ambitious, masochistic or just didn't know when to quit. Or maybe, just maybe I knew in spite of all of the work and insults and pain and all of the hours spent slaving over a role alone with no hope in hell anyone would ever hear me sing it I kept going because sometimes you have to see it through no matter what. Sometimes what you are creating isn't about deadlines, or money, or fame or receiving some sort of praise from someone. Sometimes it's about doing it for yourself, as a sort of legacy, to say "I was here. I created something from myself. And when I'm gone, somehow it will still be here forever." Somewhere on the wind are the notes I sang in my debut role twenty-two years ago. They will always be part of the wind.
Why do I write with no idea if I'll be published or not? Cause I ain't done yet!