The next great American novel?

So I got out of school, fresh from earning my Creative Writing degree, and the strangest thing happened.

No one was lining up to hire me. No publishers were hanging around my door or sending me flowers. No hot shot agents waited to whisk me away in a private jet to sign a fat contract.

What was wrong?

Oh, yeah. I wasn’t writing. If I wanted fame and fortune, all I had to do was write the next Great American Novel. Surely it couldn’t be all that hard.

So I started this deep, heavy novel, full of deep symbolism and deeper characters. I was going to crush this thing.

Then a funny thing happened. The story sucked. I hated it. I hated the characters. Pretentious assholes, every one of them. I dreaded spending time with them. Then I began avoiding them. I worked my dead end job, came home, drank beer and watched Cheers! Sometimes I shouted at my computer, sitting smugly on the desk, knowing it was master and I was slave.

Finally I said, the hell with this. I got into writing because I love to write. Nothing matches that feel of a scene coming to life before my very fingertips. I would write what I wanted to write and I would have fun while doing it.

Being a huge fan of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy books, I decided to write something similar, only spoofing fantasy instead of sci-fi. It was titled Darkness Over Bashland (yeah, I’m bad at titles) and it was a blast to write. It wasn’t very long and it was awfully silly and I loved every minute of it.

When it was done I decided it was time to become famous. Never having heard of a cover letter, a synopsis, or anything to do with approaching an editor or an agent, I simply picked up a fantasy book I liked, got the address of the publisher off the back and mailed the manuscript off. Ah, the heady mixture of arrogance and ignorance. What a sweet mix.

When I didn’t hear anything for a couple of months, I called the publisher. They probably just lost my contact info and were feverishly trying to contact me. Strangely enough, I actually got through to someone who put me through to someone else who said, “It’s in our consideration pile. We’ll get back to you.” I decided I could wait a few more weeks to be famous and hung up the phone.

Sometime later I got an actual, handwritten rejection letter telling me the story had a lot of charm but just wasn’t that marketable. I was outraged! Did they not know who they were dealing with? (It wasn’t until years later, when my stack of badly mimeographed form rejection letters had gotten so big it had become a fire hazard, did I realize how unbelievably precious that handwritten rejection actually was. Those things are pure gold when you’re a nobody. Seriously.)

I can laugh at all this now, but the lesson I took away from this was really valuable: Write for yourself. Write because you enjoy writing. If I’m writing, and I don’t like it, quit. Do something else.

I try to always remember this advice to myself. It has gotten me through some difficult stretches.

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