Why do you write?
This is the question, isn’t it? The big one every author will answer eventually, whether he wants to or not. Standard answers are “I want to make money” or “I want to be famous” or “I have a message for the world from God” or some combination of those three. Feel free to add one, dear readers. Those are just the ones I hear most.
My standard answer up to now has been “why not?” I’ve got the time. I’ve got some talent. I’ve got a few ideas rattling around up there. Why not get them on paper and out into the big world?
That’s not a good enough reason.
I’ve heard the journey to publication characterized as a climb up a mountain. Searching for the smallest chink or bulge as you pull yourself upwards by bloody fingernails. Sometimes you have help; sometimes you don’t. Sometimes the mountain is huge; sometimes it’s more of a steep hill.
But getting to the top makes it all worth it, right?
Well, I don’t know. Since I’ve started this climb, I haven’t really heard anybody say that. I haven’t heard of any huge paychecks or grocery-store recognition or world-changing revelations. I have heard Tosca Lee saying you’ll never get to polish another book like your first one. Sherry Thompson saying it can take half a lifetime to even scale the mountain. Paul Baines describing his struggles with marketing his published book.
Here’s my trouble. I don’t think of publication as reaching the top of a mountain. I don’t know why. Maybe because I’m afraid of heights.
In the year since I’ve started this journey, I feel like I’m walking to the middle of a huge, frozen lake. With every step, the ice thins. Cracks appear, followed quickly by creaks and pops. Which step will snap the illusion of control and plunge me into painful death? I don’t know.
But I don’t want to die.
That is what will happen. Publication changes everything. I may not get rich, or famous, or even share the message I intended. But everything I was will change. Expectations shift from “are you published?” to “when’s your next book out?” From hanging out on Facebook to setting up book signings. From hobby to job.
You may think I’m overreacting. You may be right. I may get published and no one notices. What I have noticed is an ever-increasing reluctance on my part to take the next, logical step, whatever it may be. It’s like I’ve hit the edge of my risk tolerance and I can’t bring myself to go further. But I don’t want to go back, either. Back isn’t good. So there I am, a turtle out on an ice-covered lake, slowly freezing to death.
So what do I do?
Rabbi Lapin says if you aren’t the person you should be, you need to change who you are. Exactly what I’ve been not doing most of my life. Exactly what my donkey doesn’t want to do. Except my donkey isn’t in control. I am. And I am going to change.
It hurts. It hurts like braces, and the pain makes me cry in the darkness, and snap at my friends, and on occasion wish I were dead rather than endure it one moment more.
But I’m in control. I will win. I will change and be a better turtle for it, even if it means the death of what I was before I started. Frankly, I don’t know why I’m making such a fuss about losing her. She isn’t that great.
When I get too wrapped up in myself and my pain, I look to my writer friends who struggle so faithfully with their own treks, and who seem to see their reasons so clearly, and I’m encouraged. Maybe if I know enough people at the top, I won’t be so afraid to take the plunge.
What about you, dear readers? Do you know your reasons? Is your journey harder or easier than you thought it would be?