Tuesday, April 23, 2013

On Getting Ahead of Ourselves

I was at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books this past weekend. It's at USC now (I miss the times when it was at UCLA, when the walkways were wide and a person felt like they could breathe, but that's not why I'm writing) this big sprawling festival of writers and publishers and agents and editors and mostly desperate people, cramped into narrow walkways, over grassy hills, is a miasma of individuals hoping to find something or someone that can help them along the path to their dreams.

Anyone who writes, and especially those like me who are aspiring, know that my demographic -- the people who want to become writers -- is a hugely profitable one. People are making money hand-over-fist on the backs of people's greatest hopes in a ways that are exploitive and dirty. And they are successful because writers are a desperate breed of people. Especially aspiring writers, who all seem to be racing for the finish line (this writer included).

Desperation is an impatient beast. It doesn't have time for hard work, time for classes, time to read, time for revisions, but writing and writing well takes so much hard work, so much time. A serious and aspiring writer friend of mine met another, greener writer and said to me, "I just can't listen to her. I've worked too hard...I just can't." And I totally get what she means. I know what it feels like to have your deepest desire thrown around by other less serious, maybe undeserving, people. How dare they call themselves writers? They haven't worked half as hard as I have. 

I met a lot of these people at the Festival of Books. People who wanted to know how YOU could help THEM. Do you want a copy of my book? Will you publish my book? I have my book here if you want to buy a copy? I'm self published. I'm published. I'm looking for an agent. I get the desperation, I have it too, I just hide it better.

For myself, and for a lot of aspiring writers, I believe the main problem is that we allow our desperation, our hope, to let us get ahead of ourselves. That's why the sight of so many desperate people, all in one place, can be unnerving. I'm going to say something now which might sound a little like hubris, but comes from knowing the fruits of hard work and determination:

I am not worried about publishing my book. I'm not worried about finding an agent.

I believe that these things will come to me if I do my best to produce good work. If my book is good, if I've done everything I can to make it the best it will be, it will eventually find a home. I know this because every thing I've achieved so far has been won on the back of hard work. I know this because In the years I've dedicated to becoming a writer I've read a lot of books. A lot of bad books. A lot of crap gets published so why can't my crap get published? It will happen in time If I just put in the work, and that is the main thing I wanted to get across. Impatience breeds laziness. Impatience allows you to settle with good enough. Impatience allows you to be taken advantage of by people who are looking to make money off of your desperation. I believe that if someone is willing to put in the hard work, the rewards will follow.

It is easy to get ahead of yourself. Especially when you are so close to the finish line, which is why it is important not to think about the rewards. You have to tap into that thing that makes you want to be a writer, the pleasure and self-satisfaction that comes with putting all of yourself into your work. I've been told time and again by published authors that publishing a book will not change your life. So what you have to hold on to is the thing that made you want to write in the first place. Everything else, in the face of that, is empty, fleeting. The work is what is important. The writing is the best part! The satisfaction of taking the time to make craft something filled with beauty and meaning. You can't skip ahead. You have to take your time. You have to roll around in it, enjoy the journey and the success when it comes, will mean so much more.

A former teacher of mine, Les Plesko, once said he allows himself 15 minutes a day to think about his future greatness, then he gets back to work. It's some of the best advice I've ever received.


Get back to work.