I read “The Changeling” by Victor Lavalle a few years ago and I so enjoyed it, I wrote him a fan email. I talked about how great it was, how I was also hoping to be published myself one day but that regardless, I would never be as good of a writer as him. His writing is exquisite. I have a handful of writer friends. They write like the Bohemian Rhapsody of prose. I am dazzled by their technical prowess and then when I got back to my manuscripts, my stories kind of feel like a bagel. Like not bad, but not that exciting either. Mr. Lavalle wrote me back the nicest email. He said that he appreciated my kind words, that it was nice to hear, but to also remind me that “The Changeling” is his ninth book and that his prose did not begin at that level. He also wished me luck with my writing.
I have a novel I have been shopping around to agents and I came very close to signing with one. She and I went back and forth for six months, and we developed a rapport. I liked her! She was extraordinarily shrewd yet supportive with feedback. I rewrote the outline, the first fifty pages, then the whole book to try to make it something she could sell and I really thought it was going to work out but she disappeared. And then I felt like, should I give up? I mean this book, this YA book, I started it years ago in my dad’s hospital room when he was first sick and I needed a light story to distract me. I have revised it off and on in ten-minute scraps of time here and there until I have written at least twenty drafts. I have wondered many times about giving up writing. In fact, I have quit but always end up coming back. I have been writing for years, since the third grade, and have always wanted to be published (and I have been, but I mean, I want an entire book with my name and title on it.) I have been writing and waiting for such a long time. Perhaps it is time to give up my professional aspirations for it. Perhaps I simply don’t have the talent necessary to get to that level.
Me: Husband, how do I know when it’s time to quit?
Husband: Is it still your dream?
Husband: Then never. The answer is never.
And his answer fortified me. It made the question of quitting, of being good enough irrelevant. Other friends, writer friends too, have advised the same thing. Never, ever, ever, ever give up (said Winston Churchill). The agent reappeared, apologizing for her long absence. She was battling an illness that was taking more time to recover from than she thought so regretfully, she needed to pass on my project to reduce her workload, and she said she greatly look forward to reading my work in print (such a nice thing to say). And her rejection did not sting so much, since I figured with her lack of response to me, I was being ghosted.
Another writer friend (mad successful writer friend) posted a link about Deborah Eisenberg saying that people don’t realize to get a piece of writing really good, it takes a long, long time. I haven’t even read the piece yet, but the headline alone was startling and has shifted my sense and understanding of time. What is my true goal? Is it to be published? Or is it to become a master? I am choosing both. And that is going to take a great deal of writing and working and sweating, and a lot more time. But what’s perverse about my nature is that if I’m told I should want something or I’m told I can’t have something because the obstacles are too hard, I go the opposite way than requested. I dig deep and drop down to a different level of patience. I am ready to wait.