Monday, April 13, 2009

The writer whines

Thanks to Easter and some other obligations, I've gotten a nice, big dose of family fun time lately. Alas, I'm beginning to dread these familial encounters. Why? Well, as shocking as this may be, making the decision to work part time so that you can work on your writing does not much impress Dad and Uncle Joe--unless you promptly follow this announcement with a published book in about four months time.

Apparently it should take no more than 4-6 months to write, revise, edit, sell, and publish a book--whether it's a children's picture book or a novel. If you fail in this endeavor (and you will fail--even Stephenie Meyer didn't quite make this dubious deadline), you will earn yourself some hearty questioning from curious relatives and sour looks from grandma. (Not to mention, if you share my misfortune of being a woman, the heavy silences which shout, "If you're working part time then why can't you make me some great grandchildren while you're at it?!?")

Take yesterday, for instance. One highlight was when my aunt asked my twin sis and I if we'd been working on a new picture book. I said, "Yes, but we really need to get back to it--it's been a few months."

She nodded and smiled and then asked, "Haven't you already published one book?"

(Pause so the reader can wipe the snot off his or her keyboard caused by a sudden outburst of hilarity)

Now, I know why she asked this. My sister and I were incredibly fortunate to have a healthy back and forth relationship with a kind, generous EA at Atheneum, who had some suggestions for how we might make our manuscript better. We learned a lot in the process but ultimately lost track of the heart of the story and the manuscript was turned down. But to have her ask this so innocently and blithely was enough to make my sister choke on her potatoes. Rest assured if she and I do get published we will organize some sort of parade with puppies and paper crowns and several--and I mean several--balloons so there will be no mistaking that we've accomplished this lofty lifetime goal.

And really, while she meant well, the question stung.

Yet another aunt cornered me in the kitchen, put her hands on her hips, and asked, "So are you still doing that whole working part time and writing thing?"

I assured her that yes, I was still doing that thing. Of course the inevitable follow up question was, "How's it coming along?" So I went into my well-polished bit about how I'm "revising the second draft and am stuck on the climax but expect to finish soon."

I could see her eyes glaze over as the corner of her mouth pinched disapprovingly. Perhaps she was counting the months in her head and realized I was about a year and a half behind schedule.

And I couldn't help but wonder if she'd heard this bit before. I did write the first draft, then started over from scratch and wrote the whole damn thing again. Of course it still needs to be revised, though no one seems to comprehend that. When they inevitably make the fatal mistake of asking me what happens next, well, they nearly forget to breath out of boredom as I, with a forcefully stiff yet cheerful grin, explain the query letter, agent, editor, publishing deal dance of death that is my future if I could only finish this God forsaken manuscript.

Best of all was the previous weekend when I, in very poor taste (I realize that now), made a joke about how maybe I should have taken my parents' advice and gone to law school after all. Their eyes lit up like Christmas trees. It seems the only kind of writer worth having around is the published kind. Perhaps until that happens I should avoid family all together.

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