My brother used to be a sore winner. He’s not now. He’s one of my best friends in the world, now. But he used to be miserable to lose to, and he always won. I used to be a sore loser, and I always lost. (It might have been fairer to start the story there, but it’s my story. He can tell it how ever he wants.)
Anyway, one day we were playing racquetball together. I am slow and uncoordinated, and he is not. He was kicking my butt and celebrating every point in the obnoxious way only a 17 year old boy can manage. I was fuming and indignant, sweaty and tired.
Suddenly, something occurred to me: I didn’t give a crap if I won or not. I never had, really. What a waste of effort for something I was monumentally not enjoying. At the realization, I started to have fun. I made ridiculous dives for balls that had passed seconds before. I tripped, I spun, I swung at the air.
“Oh fiddlesticks!” I cried. “Another point for you!”
I was no fun to beat any more, and he gave up. He might have even laughed by the end of our time on the court. He certainly laughs about it now. He always says I taught him a lesson that day. But really, I was the one who needed the lesson.
Writing a book and getting it out there takes a LOT of effort. If every moment of that effort is monumentally not enjoyable, I’m dooming myself to be that indignant, sweaty and tired loser, playing a game I hate.
I feel really fortunate to be writing at this moment in publishing. There are so many options now, and so many ways to play. There used to be only one way: Write your book, query an agent, if you manage to sign with an agent, hope she could get you a publishing deal.
I know, because I know me, that I would not have finished my first book under the old rules. Once my characters starting introducing themselves to me, I fell in love with them. I couldn’t have allowed their story to play out knowing I was leaving their fate to the dubious discretion of some dude in an office. I would have been too disgusted.
It wasn’t just the unlikelihood of the book being selected for publication, what with its unusual genre (Magical Realism) and its female author (me). It was the idea that IF my book was selected, someone else could change these characters who had possessed me and were making my life so fun. They wouldn’t be mine anymore, and I wouldn’t be theirs.
Someone in a dingy office could reject them for who they are. Maybe an editor would have a problem with two of my major characters being gay. Maybe someone would want to clean up one of the characters’ cursing. Maybe they would want to take out my tiny tributes to artists who have inspired me, James Hance, Doc Hammer, Frank Turner…
Writing query letters and (eventually, if I was super, duper lucky) battling with editors about my babies was NOT a game I wanted to play. I conceded that point (goofily) to the industry. Not that it cared.
There are other games I have joined and taken a dive on, too. Trying to work Facebook, trying to figure out Amazon rankings, keeping up with Twitter. These are all tools that have their place, but it has become clear that they are too saturated and arbitrary to make or break me as an author.
I’m taking my time now. I’m enjoying writing; I’m hiring good editors and artists. I’m okay with not winning right away. I do like this sport, and I’m treating it more like an endurance event than a competition. The only score I have to beat is my own, and the only way to win is to keep moving.
I have to learn, train, try and fail, and try again. I have to keep enjoying myself and celebrating my small gains. I have to, because writing these stories makes me happier than almost anything else I’ve ever done. And I intend to keep it up. I once trained for and finished a marathon. This feels like that, and I know I can do it. (Oh yeah, that was 26.2 miles. Take that, racquetball boy! Just kidding. Love ya, bro.)