Thursday, November 07, 2013

I'm just chasing time with a thousand dreams

Once upon a time, back in the early days of not-yet-realizing I knew nothing about publishing, I had coffee with a friend who told me to enjoy the time I had when I wasn't on a publishing contract. I had no idea what she meant, because I was so focused on getting published. How easy for someone with a publishing contract to say to someone without one enjoy your freedom, right?

Stay with me. This blog post has been a year in the writing, because that's about how long ago I left my literary agency. I haven't blogged about it, because I suspected doing so invited comments of publishing takes time and you just need to keep going and giving up is why people don't get published.

So if you'd like to leave those comments, I'd recommend one of two following options:
(1) Don't.
(2) No, really. Just don't. (It happened a year ago.)

Many of my friends could tell you it was one of the hardest decisions of my life. A few of them could tell you that I'd spent almost a year making it.

I was with this agent for five years; she never stopped believing in my abilities as a writer. She was a pillar of support and a constant in my life when a lot of things were in flux. During those years, I had multiple manuscripts on submission at the same time. I was always working on new things. Always writing a manuscript. But... nothing sold, and I stopped believing that something would.

I stopped pitching new ideas. I stopped finishing things. Instead, I took about a year and a half to write a very personal book about what it felt like to have an aspiration impair one's ability to live her life. It was the first story that had my bleeding, broken heart in the telling of it.

And it almost sold. (Almost. It's a bladed kiss of a word. It dangles possibilities, but makes no promises.) The almost-sale more than almost-devastated me. I realized not only did I not believe anything would ever sell, I was no longer ready for anything to sell. Because I hated publishing. Absolutely. Fucking. Hated. It. The loathing festered inside me and rotted out my ability to write. I was walking misery that looked like a person.

Officially, I left my agency to take time off from publishing because I recognized I was no longer doing my part to encourage my own success. Unofficially, I was doing what I had to do to get healthy. I spent months where I oscillated between a delirious sense of having escaped certain doom and a petrifying identity crisis of what it meant to not be an agented author anymore.

I spent a lot of time this year not being A Writer. A read. I thought about what I was reading. I occasionally put words in a draft. But it wasn't my defining, driving instinct. It wasn't a survival urge like it had always been. About a month ago, I looked around at how awful things felt and the way that I wasn't dealing with the stress from my work life. I'd cited exhaustion as a reasonable excuse for why I wasn't making the time to write.

But when I chose not to visit my family at Thanksgiving because we're short-staffed, I had this thought like someone speaking in my head: you gave up the wrong thing. It's entirely possible sleep deprivation was causing auditory delusions, but the sentiment was undeniably true. By not making the time to write, I had given up the thing that was the entire reason I took a break from publishing.

So I started writing again and discovered I'd lost my desire to be a person who tells clever stories. In fact, I started to see that clever is often a distance put between a reader and a writer. Probably everything I wrote previous to the manuscript that almost-sold suffered from clever getting in the way of telling the story well. I don't think I would've realized that if I'd stubbornly kept going.

When you have to learn how to finish writing a book again you have to cut narrative teeth and regrow limbs you didn't realize you'd lost; you do it with purpose because you have a different measure of the pain. It's hard to accept that I threw out 20,000 words and returned to writing the middle of a draft that I was in the middle of back in April. It feels like I've spent all year in the middle of this draft. Because I know I used to complete a manuscript in 8 months.

And I know I don't have any idea how long it will take for me to finish this draft; I don't know when this manuscript will be ready for anyone else to look at it.

I was thinking about NaNoWriMo last week, and I realized my distrust of that kind of process isn't about whether or not a fast-draft technique works for me. (It doesn't.) I don't understand NaNoWriMo because I can't comprehend putting that stress on my writing for the reward of having done it. I had a publishing contract when I did a first draft in a month, and I did those revisions in two weeks. I got paid to exert that energy. So if I don't have to write a book in a month... why would I want to?

The truth is I no longer belong to the class of writers who have a wealth of abundant fucking around warm-up time. I steal mine writing moments from the weeknights and weekends around an office job that will never be contained to office hours. I built my original writing process on a foundation of regular, uninterrupted blocks. Now I have to rebuild it to incorporate frequent breaks.

That's why I haven't blogged since August. It's why I'm not quite 50,000 words into something I started drafting a year ago. It'll take as long as it takes, because I don't have a publishing contract with committed deadlines. No one is waiting on me to turn in a draft.

Sounds like freedom to me.


3 comments:

Leigh Purtill said...

Chandra, this is a thoughtful and honest essay. It's so true that we get caught up in being pubbed, being repped, simply being in the business of books when our hearts are not fully there. More writers should do what you did! You need to discover what makes you joyful, what ignites your passion for writing (or not!). When we are more focused on being perceived as a writer, it's really hard to actually be one.

I'm sure whenever you do finish that book, it will be exactly as you want it.

~leigh

Chandra Rooney said...

Thank you, Leigh. I appreciate knowing there are others who understand the decision I made.

Heather Dearly said...

I wish my friends peace first, publishing second. Peace is invaluable, but often times invisible when the writing life seems otherwise. (((hugs)))