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Break even

Posted on June 28th, 2010 by annakjarzab

On Friday, Mandy Hubbard posted a blog in semi-response to Dystel & Goderich agent Michael Bourret’s post about how authors should savor the time they have before they’re published, in which Mandy expresses respect for the sentiment, but skepticism about its actual value to unpublished writers. She’s right, of course. Published writers will nod their head at everything Bourret is saying, because they know what I know, which is that to write without expectations is the freest form of expression and that it’s impossible to capture once it’s gone, unless you, like, drop off the grid for twenty years and hole up to work on your great masterpiece–but of course you need the funds to do that, or you need the ability to live in abject poverty, neither of which I or most writers have in tiny amounts, never mind in spades.

But unpublished writers, unless they’re especially wise, patient, or disinterested in actually being published, aren’t capable of writing without expectations. They, too, feel the pressure, especially if they’ve told people that they’re writing and those people keep asking, “How’s the writing going? When can I buy your book?” as they tend to do. I think we published writers look back on the years we spent unpublished through a veil of stress-related nostalgia; amidst all the pressure we feel from editors, agents, fans, friends, family, or otherwise to write again, to write better this time, to write bigger this time, to make more of a splash, to make more money, to sell more–whether these pressures are real or perceived–we forget that, back in the day, before contracts and ARCs and in-store signings and BookScan numbers and BEA and ALA and the next book, we put that pressure on ourselves, and maybe it was better, but probably it was worse.

I think about it a lot these days. I think about how easy AUT was to write, when I was in graduate school and the only person I really respected who was reading my stuff was telling me it was both “good” and “publishable” (he has a new book out, by the way, you should go buy it), about how much I loved it and believed in it. I remember writing the book formerly known as MB, now known as sadly still untitled Book 2, how much I loved it and believed in it, how much it made me laugh. And then I compare that to the struggle of rewriting Book 2, and man, I wish I was back there, in that apartment on Kenwood, in my grandmother’s basement, in that apartment on Tiemann, writing the shit out of whatever I wanted and to hell with what other people thought!

But if you asked me to hand in the copies of AUT sitting on my bottom shelf, asked me to erase it all and start over again with that first manuscript, fresh as peeled skin, I’d refuse. I’d rather go forward than go back, even if it means uncertainty and disappointment and having to loosen my proprietary grip on what matters most to me in the world: the vessels of my expression, a.k.a. my books. Because I know–or I pretend to know, which is almost the same–that somewhere in there is a learning experience, a toughening, an opening wide of doors and windows to…something new, I don’t know. I’ll tell you when I do.

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