I'm perturbed today. I'm perturbed because in the process of catching up on Janet Reid's blog I followed a link to the Solon article "My book was a bad idea." This is a well writing article but the conclusions the author draws... hit a nerve, so much so, that I'm about to refute several points of the article. To be fair the author simply wrote about her personal truth.
Summary (For those smarmy individuals who are too busy using pirate words to read the article.)
In the article the author talks about how she secured an agent based on her experience as a journalist and her pitch to said agent. While I'm sure that there are lots of details left out, for writers such as myself ... ones who have received so much rejection it's practically a national past time-- a story such as this seems mythical. The author quit her job and moved abroad to write her book. The book took four years to finish, wasn't fun to write, and her agent dumped her. Subsequent agents rejected the manuscript. In the meantime she had a baby and the baby led to an epiphany of sorts. The author concluded that her love for writing wasn't as pure as her love for her child. Based on this conclusion she wrote a second book about raising her baby. This book was rejected resulting in her final conclusion that both books were a mistake.
I think that there are a lot better lessons that can be learned from this story.
Don't count your chickens before they're hatched. You know I'm a reality TV fan and so I can't resist using So You Think You Can Dance. On this show dancers of every style try out. The really good ones go to Las Vegas where most discover they have no talent for irritating little things like choreography, hip hop and ballroom. Just like ballroom and contemporary dancers hone sills specific to their style, novelist hone skill specific to writing a novel and journalist hone skills specific to writing for magazines an newspapers. Moreover there are a thousand reasons why books don't get published just as their are a thousand reasons why the dancers don't get on So You Think You Can Dance. A lot of good dancers don't make it and its not for a lack of talent. The author assumes that she didn't sell the book because it is a bad book. A lot of first books are. But I really don't like saying that. First books are first books. They're a first attempt at something very hard. Remember the first time you rode a bike? Tried roller blades or tried to long division on your own. Was it pretty now. Remember the first time you had sex. Ugh, you groan. But it got better. So do second books and third books. A first book generally doesn't hatch into a chicken with a fledgling rooster fertilizing the the prose.
Let's look at So You Think You Can Dance again. There are always a handful of people who quit their job to be on the show. This brings me to lesson two. Don't put all your eggs in one basket. The dancers who quite their job to be on the show not only have to deal with the let down of rejection but also the void of nothing to go back to. And there are all the people to whom they announced "I quit my job because I'm going to be on the show." Argh, that's painful. You know how I know. Because I've done this a time or sixty. It's never fun to admit failure. But it's only failure if you look at it that way. This brings me to lesson three. Look on the bright side.
At the end the selections on So You Think You Can Dance, the judges remind the 15 to 20 contestants that don't make it on the show, that this isn't a failure. It's a triumph.
Out of nearly a million dancers who try out every year, they made it to the top 30 or 40. Or in this case, you finished a friggin book. Yikes that's awesome. Time for BEER!
But you still made the mistake of putting all your eggs in one basket and you counted your chickens before they hatched. And you broadcast your folly to the world so that now when they ask you if your book is published yet you get really embarrassed and a little defensive. Lesson four. Don't feel embarrassed. Take ownership of your mistakes, learn from them and move on. If your a writer it should be to your next book or short story or whatever floats your boat. If your a dancer and you really want to be on TV you try out for every casting call between here and Timbuktu.
This brings me to my last lesson. If you do you always did you you'll always get what you always got. While there might not be a dancing connection, there is a great example of this in the character of Rick in The Walking Dead. He continues to make the same tragic mistake again and again. Even on the last episode where he finally steps up, he's doing it for the same reason he risked lives to save the boy impaled on the fence. He continues to repeat the behavior while expecting a different result.
There's a lot I don't know about what the author didn't put into her article. But it seemed to me, barring the motives for the book, she approached it the exact same way, expecting it to be successful. When it wasn't she drew the same conclusions that she drew when her first book was rejected. Writing the book was a mistake.
I spent 11 years writing my first book. Well, if I'm to be candid, I spent the bulk of those years grandly dreaming and boasting. I made a lot of mistakes during those years, not all of them related to the book, though it influenced a surprising number of choices. I suppose this is why I have so much to say on this subject.
I can't imagine looking upon that book as something I wish I'd never done. I learned a lot, not only from writing the book, but from all the screw-ups. In many ways I'm a reformed royal screw-up. Okay, so not really all that reform. I 'm a glutton for punishment, what can I say.
To summarize: Writing a book is never a bad idea. The things you do based on what you think will said book's success are another matter. Now go drink a beer. Make that two. One for you and one for me.