This week, I had my writing center students complete an assignment based off the essay series called “This is Childhood.” In the series, bloggers for the Huffington Post reflect on what the various ages of childhood look like to them. This series inspired another blog, where author Emily Mendell muses about being 45 years old.
I have yet to see my students’ finished products, but it got me thinking about what my age says about me and, more specifically, where I am in life as a writer. It's long, but it's worth it. So here it is:
This is writing for ten years.
Writing for ten years is remembering the delight of crafting your first novel. Each word - each page - was a step towards greatness. Your enthusiasm was at an epic height. You envisioned the literary agent of your dreams, a Random House publishing contract, and a billion-dollar movie deal. Writing wasn’t work, then.
Writing for ten years is accepting that the “first novel” magic is gone. You left it behind - perhaps on the same thumb drive where your novel now makes its sweet repose. You never access that file anymore. It’s a reminder of your “youth” when adverbs and dialogue dominated your writing. It’s cringing at the word count of your first novel - above 120,000 words - which is a major faux pas in the writing world. It’s regretting the name of your main character, because its a name you’d like to use in a different book, but it seems cruel to rip it away from your first “baby.”
Writing for ten years is understanding you’re no longer a fledgling but are far from accomplished. You’re an average, everyday sort of writer. You think about writing all the time, but put it off for your children’s after-school activities. For cooking and cleaning. For trips to the grocery store and Target and the doctor’s office. For grading papers and planning lessons. For family obligations. For calming down a hormonal teenager who is having her fourth minor crisis of the day and for the rare time you can go for a 30 minute run outside. You put it off for ten, quiet minutes on the couch without someone calling your name or needing something.
Writing for ten years means having a list of story ideas on your phone. You probably don’t understand half of them anymore, because they were written in the middle of the night or after that third glass of wine. It’s listening to a song on the radio and picturing a vivid scene for your book. It’s replaying that same song ad nauseum until the scene is solidified in your mind because you’re driving, and you don’t have the capability of writing it down.
Writing for ten years means finding that precious hour to work on your current novel, only to spend that hour going back and re-reading in an attempt to rediscover your intended path. You fix problem after problem along the way. Sometimes you discover an excellent scene and congratulate yourself. At the end of the hour, you’ve written, perhaps, for ten minutes, before you are called away on another errand.
Writing for ten years means letting go of the strict grammar conventions of high school and recognizing that style, complex characters, and rich settings are of paramount importance. It’s okay to break the rules, because it creates depth.
After writing for ten years, you cling to the hope that your writing is worthy of an agent. You’ve sent out over one hundred query letters. You also recognize - with painful acquiescence - you may never land one.
It’s finally getting published by a small press and loving every minute of the publishing process. It’s jumping up and down when you receive the acceptance email. It’s spending grueling hours in front of a computer screen making all of your verbs active and removing the word “look” from your manuscript 300 times. It’s delighting in the cover art and sharing your accomplishments with anyone who will listen.
Writing for ten years is realizing, a year after you’ve been published, that book promotion is the most difficult part of the publishing process. It’s getting royalty statements with “0” next to “books sold.” It’s fighting the urge to give up.
After writing for ten years, you are aware of your responsibilities as a writer. You write as much for your audience - for that one person who might connect with your work - as you do for yourself.
Writing for ten years means embracing the joys and the rejection that come with writing. You acknowledge that you will not be the next Stephen King or Joyce Carol Oates. You accept that you will, most likely, never be able to quit your day job.
Writing for ten years means you love the craft. That never goes away. You know you will always be a writer. Especially because your license plate says "WR1TE."
This is writing for ten years. This is me.
Bethany Masone Harar is an author, teacher, and blogger, who does her best to turn reluctant readers into voracious, book-reading nerds. Check out her blog here and her website here.