Has it ever occurred to you that the road to publication bears a strong resemblance to the road to Mordor and we're all just Frodos obsessed with our "preciouses" i.e. our manuscripts? Think about it. We know where we need to go, but there are lots of ways to get there and even more ways to get lost. Some of those ways can be injurious to our health and some of them can make us downright crazy. There are all sorts of villains and weird creatures we meet along the way. And our worst enemy on the journey, more often than not is ourself!
We all have companions on this journey to publication. None of mine are as handsome as Aragorn or as cute as Legolas. We should all BE so lucky! But I don’t think anyone can make the journey through the perils of contests, critiques, query letters, rejections, rewrites and everything else without at least being aware of our fellow travelers.
While we’d all really like a Gandalf on our side – who wouldn’t want a wizard to conjure up the perfect query letter or the perfect synopsis or heck, while he’s at it why not the perfect book? And every quest needs a Merry and Pip for a little comic relief. I see myself as a sort of Gimli for the writers I know. I’m like a bull in a china shop and when I fall off the horse I say “I meant to do that.” Not to mention the fact that I’m about the same size as a dwarf and sometimes have to stand on a box to see what is happening!
Lord knows when I get those rejection letters or really bad critiques from contest judges I would love to have an Aragorn, or Legolas, or Borimir to shoot a couple of arrows or fling a sword in those judges’ or editors’ direction – not to draw blood, just to scare them a little.
But to me, an aspiring writer might be able to make the journey without all of those people, IF said writer had a Samwise Gangee.
A writer needs someone who is going to stick with them for the entire journey, someone who won’t lose them no matter what the road throws at you. “Don’t you lose him, Samwise Gangee. And I don’t mean to, Mr. Frodo. I don’t mean to.”
A good Sam will make sure you stay on the road every time you want to turn back. Your Sam will tell you when you are making a mistake, taking on too much or going in the wrong direction. When you put your faith in the wrong person, or the wrong idea or thing, Sam will tell you so – vehemently and if you insist on going forward anyway Sam will be there even then waiting for you to figure it out. Because a Sam doesn’t insist you do it his or her way or no way. A good Sam tells you about the possibilities, warns you about the bad choices, lets you make your own mistakes and doesn’t berate you when do, but says “Okay, that didn’t work. What do you want to try next?”
A good Sam believes in you. They’ll help you with the burden, but they’ll never take it over from you. A good Sam knows the one great truth – that while you may be on this journey together, ultimately the work is yours and yours alone. Your Sam is there to help you make the journey, not to make it for you.
Most important, when you question why you’re putting yourself through this, why you don’t just turn around and go home, your Samwise Gangee won’t let you quit. He/she will tell you why you are making the journey and why anything less than completion of the quest is just not possible. He/she will remind you why you started this journey and why you have to finish it. “There is some beauty in this world and it is worth saving.” You may not think your writing is beautiful or worth saving, but your Samwise will and he/she’ll remind you of that every time you try to quit.
A Sam will hold a mirror up to your writing to make sure you see all the wrinkles, warts and gray hair without pulling any punches. And when you cry about the impossibility of fixing all of that he/she’ll say “Let’s just start by getting down the hill.” When you are crushed by the latest rejection and feel completely devastated and exposed he/she’ll say “Let’s find you something to wear. You can’t go walking about Mordor in nothing but your skin.” (In other words – Toughen up. Put on some armor and keep going!)
And when you are hanging over the lake of fire and just want to let go of your dream and let the toughness of the journey consume you, a Samwise Gangee will tell you “Don’t let go.” And if you are half as strong as Sam believes you are, you won’t. Ever. Until the quest is done.
Do you have a Samwise Gangee in your life? Do you think every writer needs one? What has your Sam done for you to keep you going on the road to publication? And is it just me or do you sometimes have dreams about some of these editors as a big all-seeing eye just waiting for you to send your manuscript into their office so they can burn it and you alive?