Years ago I came across the entry for Nelson DeMille in Who's Who in America? in which the bestselling novelist said something along the lines of that there's no such thing as a retired novelist. This struck me instantly as true, much in the way the occasional singing line from Martin Amis does.
[Brief digression: When Mr. Amis does it - e.g., the line about how when you have a child of your own, you instantly forgive your own parents everything - I call these Amisisms, the moment of blinding truth almost immediately followed by a sense of, "What a crock! Still, he writes a gorgeous sentence!"]
But back to Mr. DeMille's line, which I liked so much and still do, because it expresses my own feeling that once you do this thing called writing it becomes a permanent and indelible part of who you are.
Still, are there retired novelists?
Actually, yes. Occasionally you'll even know about the retirement in advance. A P.D. James or a Colin Dexter will announce that after the next book, they're hanging up the hat.
It's not just published novelists that retire, though, and now we arrive at the heart of today's post.
Lately, there's been a spate of people retiring pre-publication. Among the reasons given? Disillusionment with who gets published and who doesn't, disillusionment with which books succeed and which fail. I'm here to say: That way, sadness and madness lie.
Do you remember back in school when you, or some other annoying kid, always pointed out to the teacher what others were doing, and the teacher would tell you to just worry about what you were doing? I had a teacher I couldn't stand who used to love saying, "Sweep your own doorstep before you sweep anyone else's." Maybe I couldn't stand her and her stupid brown shoes, but she had a point, and that point applies here.
Every time you worry about the unfairness of the publishing industry, you expend valuable energy you could be using elsewhere: like, say, improving your own work.
Of course, there will always be people who get published, that make you go, "Huh?" Of course, there will always be books that make all the bestseller lists, that make you go, "Huh?"
It's not about what other people are doing. It's about what you're doing.
And what should you be doing?
Are you writing the best book you can and revising it to the point where you can no longer find anything to improve? With each book you write, whether you sell it or not, do you learn something to carry with you when you write the next book? Do you read widely, do you also read in the area you hope to be published in, and do you do all that reading with an evaluative eye rather than a jaundiced one, so that instead of asking "Why this person and not me?" you ask "What can I learn here?"
Every writer has moments of envy and jealousy. I've experienced those emotions myself and I've been the object of other people's as well. (Yes, I do know that there are people, each time I sell a book - and I've sold 20 since 2003 as of last week - who say, "Why her???") It's natural. It's part of being human. But me, I live by The Five-Minute Rule: I allow myself five minutes to feel whatever bile I need to and then it's back to work.
Let that bile consume you, though, let it predominate your thoughts, and no matter how talented you are, you're on your way to becoming a retired writer, maybe even before you've started.
Grow your talent, increase your opportunities by learning the publishing business, and cross your digits for luck, because it takes all of that to make it.
QUESTION OF THE DAY: NOW THAT WE ALL KNOW WHAT I THINK, WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT ALL THIS?
Before I sign off, a crowing moment, from Publishers Marketplace:
Lauren Baratz-Logsted's THE TWINS DAUGHTER, set in Victorian England when a simple knock on the door begins a series of events that will change a [teen's] life forever as she comes face to face with a bedraggled and desperate woman who looks exactly like her mother, to Melanie Cecka at Bloomsbury, in a very nice, in a two-book deal, by Pamela Harty at The Knight Agency (World).
Yeah, I'm happy about that one.
Be well. Don't forget to write.