Fiction writing, as has been mentioned nearly everywhere, is not a particularly happy profession. It almost seems like the writers who aren’t busy actually killing themselves are writing about it constantly.
Yes, there are undoubted perks. Having a story accepted for publication by a traditional publisher–one with a slushpile and gatekeeper editors–is an incredible feeling, one that I’ve not found anywhere else. When a random reader you’ve never met enjoys the story and comments or writes a review–or drops you a note–is another beautiful sensation. Most important, perhaps is the ability to reach strangers with your ideas.
Unfortunately, the highs are offset by a number of lows. The first and perhaps most clichéd, is rejection. All writers get rejections except for those whose name sells by itself. If a publication rejects something sent to them by Stephen King, all of the accountants will immediately resign. Some established writers get few rejections… but most writers get lots and lots of them, all the time.
But that’s not all. So your story or novel ran the gauntlet, convinced an editor and a publisher and saw the light… the reviews might not be as good as you hoped for: the words ‘imbecilic’, ‘moronic’ and ‘stupid’ are bandied around quite lightly in the Amazon review areas. So is the term ‘semi-literate’. Worse, sometimes the reviewer really doesn’t like it.
And then there’s the feeling that your novel has launched to widespread indifference… They don’t like it. They don’t hate it. Hell, did anyone even buy this thing?
Worst of all is the fact that these things don’t come in neat packets. They arrive in bunches. I can virtually guarantee that just when you’re sitting in a bar drowning the unhappiness of a particularly vitriolic review in Publisher’s Weekly under a few gallons of alcohol, you will glance at your phone to find a rejection of your very best story, the one you’d pinned all your hopes on, sitting in your inbox.
And did we mention writer’s block and stories with endings that don’t come together and deadlines and watching others get publishing contracts that you’d cheerfully kill for? It can become a bit of a grind.
Nevertheless, most writers will tell you they love writing. Hell, I’ll do it for them: I love writing. I do. Maybe not the rejections or the nutso reviewers with an ax to grind, but telling stories is one of the greatest activities you can be a part of.
In my own case, I’m fine with most of the above. Rejections are a part of the game… everyone and his kid brother wants to be a writer. A lot of them are sending stories out. Slushpiles everywhere are overrun.
So what? I’m selling regularly, so I know that a rejection only means that story is one step closer to finding a home. Good to get it out of the way. Rejections hurt, but then I get to send the story back out, and depression is replaced by renewed hope.
And bad reviews? In my mind, they mean that my stuff is getting read a little more widely than just my close circle (they never give bad reviews because they know that a bad review will mean that I will visit them in the middle of the night and throw tarantulas on them while they sleep). It’s a good thing – and you can often learn from a good shellacking.
There’s one thing, though, that really gets to me: finishing a novel.
Writing ‘The End’ is a moment that should be cause for celebration. And yes, there’s a sense of accomplishment but… it’s not the same kind of happy dance that accompanies a sale, more of a ‘whew, glad that’s done’ kind of moment. Writing a novel is not a light-hearted lark. It’s hard work and you feel a lot of relief when it’s done.
And if you’re like me, you are burdened with the awful knowledge that editing a novel is as fun as being hit by a train.
For whatever reason, after a novel gets done, I fall into a few weeks of utter ennui, in which hitting wordcounts is a struggle and every rejection hurts more than it should. It’s the only time when I find myself seriously asking myself… is it worth it? Why do I even try? There are a bazillion writers out there, and only a handful will ever become critical and commercial successes. It would be a better use of my time to play the lottery.
It’s this time when one seriously considers things like going back to work for a corporation–it’s both less stressful and less publicly humiliating–, robbing a bank–how hard or dangerous can that be, really?–or moving to some underdeveloped island nation and putting a marijuana kiosk on the beach.
It’s a sense of ennui that I don’t have when I finish short stories. There’s always another short project to attack, another deadline coming up. But novels? Every. Single. Time.
Perhaps, to steal the oldest, most hackneyed metaphor ever, writing a novel is exactly like running a marathon. It takes so much out of you that you need a certain amount of time to recover, and while you do, you feel about as frisky as a squirrel who just got flattened by an eighteen-wheeler.
Anyway, I finished my latest book about a month ago. This is the first week since then that I’ve felt like life has meaning.
I should probably stick to the short stuff.
Or maybe rob a bank.
Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine novelist and short story writer. His latest book, Timeless, is a modern day thriller that takes place along the beautiful Greek coast.