2013 update: One of the fundamental social problems for the beginning writer in America is the resistance of friends, family, and even total strangers to the idea that writing is a legitimate pursuit. At least, until you’re making money at it. My experiences abroad have been very different, but here in the USA there is a major cultural bias against work that doesn’t bring in a paycheck. Without that monetary stamp of approval, strangers will say things like “no, I meant what do you do for a living.” Family will ignore your boundaries and ask you to do all sorts of things during your writing time because you’re not really working. Even friends will often fret about your chances and worry that you’re wasting time you’ll never get back. It is because of this that eight years on my primary feeling about getting my first novel published is still relief despite the unusual levels of support that I personally experienced on my road to publication. Now, on to the reblogging.
As part of a longer post over at her personal blog my friend and fellow author Lyda Morehouse wrote: Writers, in particular those who haven’t got book or short story credits to their name yet, have a hard time convincing their friends and family that what they do is real and important. Getting a paycheck is something you can wave in people’s faces to say, “Yes, actually, I got paid to write, thank you very much.”
This brought me back to trying to explain to people how I felt when I sold WebMage (the novel-when I sold the short story I was unambiguously delighted). Now, let me first note how fortunate I am in my friends, family, and writing community. Pretty much from the get go, I’ve had incredible support from people who really believed in me and what I wanted to do. In particular, my wife, Laura, has never wavered in the slightest in her belief in my writing, not even at those times I myself was wavering.
When I sold the novel I had quite a few friends who were not upset exactly, but certainly concerned about my apparent lack of wild excitement. Part of this was because I was going through a particularly difficult family trauma and there was fear on the part of my friends that the strain of that was devouring my joy. There may even be some truth to that hypothesis. But it wasn’t the whole or even the majority truth, because I was intensely engaged in the experience of having sold a book. It’s just that what I was feeling was mainly relief.
Relief from my own occasional conviction that I was never going to make it.
Relief that I would never again have to say “yes, I’m a writer of novels but…”
Relief that I had not let down all the people who had supported me on my way here.
Relief that the long trial of apprenticeship was over.
I have had a hard time explaining this to most people, though there are two major categorical exceptions: 1) Other writers-who have been there. 2) Ph.D.s-who have also been there. With the latter, all I had to say was “Do you remember how you felt when you passed your defense? Like that.” And the response was a knowing nod or a wry smile.
Selling the book or passing the defense means you have passed through the fire. It doesn’t mean that you’re going to have a career or be a success. It just means that you have survived the ordeal of getting to the place where those things are now genuinely possible. That may sound pessimistic, but it’s not. It’s the voice of relief, and it’s everything.
(Originally published on the Wyrdsmiths blog April 19 2007, and original comments may be found there. Reposted and reedited as part of the reblogging project)