The quote above is from author Tracy Clark, whose superb Young Adult trilogy will be published starting early next year by Entangled Teen. She and I were exchanging metaphors for the road to publication the other day on Twitter after we had both recently announced our book deals. (My own trilogy will kick off Fall 2014 from Simon Pulse.)
Tracy, who was one of the first authors I met here on the blog, sees the journey as a circle. I see it more as a series of hills. In typical writerly fashion, we decided to explore our metaphors in detail.
The circle is a mental and emotional Indy 500. Or, maybe it’s more apt to compare the journey to an Olympic track and field event. Only this event is often measured in years and the hurdles are of varying difficulty. Let me explain.
The starting gun goes off. I’ve heard this gun before and I’ve ignored it. I watched from the stands as other writers sprang from starting positions, giving it their all, typing away. All the while my fingers are twitching as if it’s me out there. I want it to be. Badly. Just not badly enough to lace up. Or more honestly, I’m afraid I might go out there and fall flat on my face.
Finally, my own longing overcomes me and I take my place on the field. Jittery (probably due to the required caffeine) and eager to prove I have what it takes, I stretch, wiggle my fingers, and try not to throw up. I’m finally ready. I’m pumped. Let’s do this. What I don’t realize when starting out is that this is a marathon of indeterminate length. This is probably a good thing. Ignorance is bliss. I’m fueled by dreams and passion and chocolate. I’ll need that fuel as it’s gonna require serious stamina to see this through.
The reason my mind sees a writer’s journey as a circle is that I’ve come to believe there’s no finish line. This only ends if we quit or if we’re dead. But while we’re on the circle, every one of us is either leading or following. It’s very hard to discern who’s “ahead.”
I'm not sure there is any "ahead" or "behind." The journey is more a question of up and down and perspective, like a series of hills we need to climb. The first hill slopes with deceptive gentleness, inviting us in. Fortunately, the top is high enough that we can't see anything beyond the wisps of cloudy dreams floating above the peak.
We start off, delighted with every word that spills from our fingers onto the keyboard. We meet a few other writers, and we cheer each other on. But the hill gets steeper. Some of the writers we started with surge ahead and finish a book. Some set a more leisurely pace, take time to enjoy the view. We get to the steep part of the climb--we send out queries, throw out those grappling hooks. Now there are writers at the top to pull us up. We in turn hold out a hand to help others polish their manuscripts and pitches. We finally do it though, we win. We plant our flag on an agent's hilltop. And only then do we discover a whole 'nother hill beyond the first. We need to sell the book. Then revise it. Then promote it. And write another. On deadline.
There's always another hill. Something harder, steeper, more dangerous. Often there's a fall before we reach a new peak, or we hit a valley, a slump, a stretch of bleak road that seems to go on forever.
Here's Tracy again:
First of all, there are different lanes on the road. The drafting lane, the revision lane, the agent lane, the publishing lane, the marketing lane, and the career lane. All lanes in the same big circle called “Being a Writer.” Just that some of us are focusing on one particular lane right now rather than another. And that’s the way it should be.
Yes, there are the major hurdles that some writers have jumped before you: finishing an actual book, signing with an agent, selling a book to a publisher. But folks, I’ve done all three of those (the finishing a book hurdle has been leapt over four times, almost five) and the hurdles don’t stop there! After each hurdle, there is another, and another.
Let’s not forget, on this thrilling, exhausting, wonderful circle there are also medals of excellence. Some writers have mastered a particular aspect of writing: surprising and engaging dialogue, appropriate and moody setting, completely inventive and fully developed characters. Maybe they’ve mastered plot or that elusive, smoky thing…voice. While I may have earned a medal or two, I always have my eyes on the writers who excel at hurdles I’ve yet to conquer. It doesn’t matter if they don’t have an agent yet, or if they are a bestseller. If they are great at something and I am not, I am behind them, chasing them.
Or, could be I’ve inspired someone else with something that they think I do well. Along the way, there have been writers who’ve reached back to help me, and writers I’ve pulled along. It’s very much a relay sport. And that’s also the way it should be.
There are many ways we writers help each other. We might offer a hand critiquing, or teaching, recommending a workshop or agent, offering a bit of insight. Perhaps we it's as simple as writing a kickasss scene, a heartbreaking theme, or a character who inspires someone the way we ourselves have been inspired as readers. Or it could be *readers* who carry us to the heights. By rights, it should be the readers who inspire us, because we write to communicate heart to heart. Touching a reader is the elusive pinnacle of what we do. But there is no instruction manual for doing that. There's no road map for any of this. We do our best, keep our heads up, our hearts open, and our arms wide to encompass all the books, the readers, the other writers, because we all share the love of words and story.
Finish it up, Tracy!
Point is, we’re always following and always leading, all at the same time. Whether you see your journey as a hill or a circle, keep moving forward. Doesn’t matter how fast. Just keep moving and don’t forget to wave when you see us out there.
Yeah. What Tracy said. In spades. :)
If you are on this journey, you aren't alone. If you are despairing, or cheering, or trudging along, there are others right here to commiserate, nudge, push, shove, or cheer. Whatever you need.
So tell us.
What do you think? Circle, hills, or something else? Where are you on the road? What part of the journey are you finding hard to reach?