Several days ago, I saw something on Twitter that broke my heart. It was from an author whose book deal had recently fallen through, and here’s what it said:
I feel like I owe an apology to everyone who congratulated me, like the engagement fell through and I got all these gifts I didn't deserve.
You can read the whole story on her blog.
I know it doesn’t help much to say I’ve been there before, but I have. I sold my first book in May 2006 to Harelquin/Silhouette’s Bombshell line of women’s action-adventure novels. Fifteen months later, I got the “un-call” from my editor saying they were canceling the line a month before my scheduled debut. Though I got to keep my advance, I was out on my butt with one formerly contracted novel, two follow-ups that never made it to contract, and a whole lot of guilt.
The guilt was the worst part.
Even now – after three years and a new three-book deal – it still hits me sometimes.
All those people you told, the voice in my head whispers. They thought you’d have a book out by now. They’re wondering if you lied. They’re wondering if you suck. They’re wondering if you slept with all the editors and weren’t particularly good at it.
When people say writing is a solitary profession, I always laugh. I don’t know any writers who work without an army of people behind them – spouses, partners, children, friends, family, agents, editors, bikini waxers, and hoards of acquaintances who cheer your successes and mourn your failures.
When things go wrong, it doesn’t matter what stage you’re at in your writing career – you can’t help but feel you’ve disappointed them all.
I’ve blogged before about deciding who to tell about your writing.
But that’s really only half the equation. Unless you write in a bubble (which tends to get your keyboard sudsy) there will be others riding along in your writing journey. How do you not feel responsible for letting them down if things don’t go the way you hope?
I don’t have an answer.
Writing is emotionally draining whether you write gut-wrenching literary fiction or nut-busting thrillers. Not just the writing process, but the expectations we pile on ourselves. There’s no way to alleviate that – though I suppose sex, drugs, and insanity sufficed for Hunter S. Thompson.
But wouldn’t it be easier if we all learned to be a bit more forgiving of ourselves? To accept that no matter how hard you work at it, there’s only so much you can do to control your own writing success. The rest is just dumb luck and the very subjective opinions in an ever-shifting publishing world.
I can’t promise not to care what people think. No author pursuing publication can promise that, or we’d all be content to scribble our thoughts on the back of a tampon box and stuff it in the medicine cabinet.
What I can promise – what we all should promise – is to cut ourselves some slack. To recognize that there will be ups and downs and times where you want to kick someone in the nuts and run away laughing. No amount of guilt we pile on ourselves will change that.
But if we all make a conscious effort to give ourselves a break, it’ll go a long way toward reducing the number of authors feeling lousy over things they can’t control.
So how about it? Are you a guilt-ridden writer? Want to join me in throwing off the hair shirt?
Leave it over there by the bar, and pull up a stool. I’m buying.