We all have unique journeys on our way to publication. I asked my friend Grier Jewell, a writer and reviewer of children’s literature, to talk about hers. I know you’ll enjoy Grier’s insights and sense of humor:
There’s only so much anyone can say to prepare a new writer for all the twists and turns she’ll encounter on the rocky road to publication and beyond. Having recently emerged from a new twist in my own publishing saga, I started thinking about the stages of grief and how they are shockingly similar to that of a writer’s pre-publication journey.
Hopefully, the stages I’ve outlined for my own amusement and survival may be of use to other travelers. Although they diverge from the true stages of grief, they function in much the same way in that there’s no real order in terms of how they unfold and come flooding back with irregular vengeance.
Without further delay (you’re a writer after all, you must be screaming for me to get to the point), here are my Five Stages:
This isn’t just any old neurosis. It’s a required staple of writing. Without it, no one would get a word on the page. In the beginning, everything you write is brilliant. No, not just brilliant. It’s the sort of groundbreaking blend of skill and artistry that’s going to take time to get noticed, and when it does, look out world. Never mind that seasoned writers all say that it will take time to hone your craft, years even. You’re in this for the long haul—at least a month or some weekends without distraction, which is plenty of time to get that work of genius on paper and prove everyone wrong. You ignore the stiffened smiles of friends and colleagues, the over-enthusiastic slaps on the back for following your dream, and even those mindless pod people who dare to question why you left your paying job for a job that costs you money. They don’t know what you know. It’s only a matter of time before they’ll be waiting in line for your autograph. Before that glorious day arrives, however…
Some writers will experience little ripples of uncertainty that disturb the tranquility of Denial, but such niggling thoughts are easily defeated by an obsession with daily word counts and the perfect cup of coffee and/or snacks. These people will skate through the stages until reality hits and they get sucked into the storm like everyone else. For everyone else, doubt comes in tsunami-sized, end of the world waves. At this stage, you can’t bear to read anything someone else has written because you’ll never be able to write that well. And even if you could, no one is going to take a chance on you because they’ve spent all their resources promoting other works of genius. And even if someone did take a chance on you, it won’t matter because the entire publishing industry is collapsing, no one reads anymore, the very ground is liquefying and the earth is surely going to swallow you whole as soon as the ink on your contract dries. Doubt and fear such as this quickly transforms back into life-saving Denial or…
Who the bleep are these people with books in print, anyway? Has the publishing world gone mad? Face it, what’s selling these days is pure drivel. The collective literary tastes of a nation have degraded to such an extent that no one will be able to recognize great work like yours. You’ve studied craft, gone to conferences, spent your life’s savings, missed family get-togethers (okay, maybe not such a sacrifice), your nephew’s graduation (the one who was a toddler when you started your novel), stopped socializing and started medicating…and Twilight is a bestseller? There are no words for the outrage you feel over having opened a vein for your art, only to have editors and agents reject your work without so much as a rejection slip or autoreply. If only you could convince someone of your brilliance, which is now more like an eensy glimmer of hope that you don’t suck as badly as you fear than it is the surging power of creative genius that once guided every word you wrote. If you can’t get a grip on the rage-induced inertia that’s numbing your senses, you’ll be up the river of Doubt without a paddle. If, however, you do somehow pull yourself together, the skies will open and you see the light of…
At some point, you’re going to wonder if you’ve been unrealistic. Maybe it’s time to compromise, agree to those suggestions from your critique group that you once thought would weaken the emotional heft of your opus. They’re probably wrong, but you have nothing to lose by proving that fact after all these months and years of ignoring their feedback. You make those revisions. The guy is a girl, maybe he’s a guy/girl and your story takes place on a planet without gender or limbs—that’s it. They’re a highly evolved form of sexless amoeba with lofty philosophies and killer weapons. Science fiction is a huge seller. You’ll get a name for yourself with that and then have money to work on your art. Heck, you might even write a few short stories just to get some publishing credits and build your resumé (in which case, you go back to Denial and get a good night’s sleep). Whatever you do at this point, it’s all natural and normal, as those folks with blank stares and large degrees like to say. It’s part of growing up as a writer to negotiate with people who are likely off their rocker. Some of them might be right. Whether they are or aren’t, as long as you don’t dive back into fits of Anger, Doubt or Denial, you are ready for…
Perhaps an editor or agent sees your brilliance and calls/emails/sends a sky written message of acceptance that’s the talk of Twitter, or you simply acknowledge that this is a tough pursuit and you’re in it for a longer haul than you’d originally imagined. In either case of acceptance, you have found peace. Until, that is, you receive that delusional editorial letter (the one with unrealistic requests for revisions), or your labor of love is released into a worldwide vacuum of unbearable silence, or some nitwit on Amazon who reviews post-it-notes dared to say your story lacked dramatic tension, or people are asking you why it’s not being made into a movie (like Twilight), or why you still live in that trailer…then, well, at least you know what it takes to ride this out until the world comes to its senses.