Apologies for being a couple days late on this newsletter. I know you were all watching your inbox, just waiting for it to drop, right? But I was busy turning 47 (a prime number!), and I lost track of time eating things that weren’t very good for me and being around people I love.
On the darker side of things, I’ve also been struggling through a semi-annual existential crisis about writing. Wait, did I say semi-annual? I meant quarterly. At least. About a month ago, I was at a writing conference in Philadelphia put on by the Association of Writers and Publishers. Pretty broad name, huh? Well, it was a pretty broad conference. About 7,000 people attended, and there were sessions about writing, publishing, researching, inclusivity, representation, mentorship, agenting, and almost anything else you could imagine. Writers are very often introverts, so it’s a horror show of people everywhere and so much talking, but it’s also inspiring and necessary.
While I was there, I said to a couple of my friends, “I need to get serious about my writing.” They laughed. One said, “You have three books. I think you’re already serious.”
He was right. But, see, here’s the thing: you never master writing. Whenever you get your brain wrapped around some aspect of the craft, you open yourself up to the next level of skills and intuition you don’t have. I call it perpetual apprenticeship, and it’s truly one of my favorite things about being an artist in this medium. Except on those days when it’s horrible, those days when I look at what I’ve written and read other writing out there and count up my rejections (especially those rejections that show how close I got before getting cut) and become sure that I will never get better, that I don’t even understand what better looks like, that I could talk about getting serious all I want, but I don’t have that thing in me that will get me … what?
A story in The Missouri Review? An agent who will push me even farther along the path by also being a great editor? A book deal with a more major publisher? More than eight reviews on Amazon? Some kind of acclaim?
Well, and no. When I say get serious, I mean pushing myself so that I can tell my stories better. I mean knowing that I left it all on the field, so to speak. That I have trained and worked and maxed out my capacity to make my characters and themes and words be as effective as I can possibly make them. And then learning more and training harder so I can do it again but better. The rest are just side effects. Yes, they are side effects that sometimes leave me spiraling in despair because I haven’t yet achieved them, but I don’t do this for them (thankfully!). I write because the act of writing is a great joy and because I think the stories I tell might speak to other people if I tell them well enough.
But I’ll probably never tell them well enough. ;)