The Long Way

everything I wanted was on back order

BUT THEN AT 40 IT ALL ARRIVED AT ONCE: A HUSBAND, STEPKIDS, AND TWINS

The Green-Eyed Book Monster

In the space of one week I received three notifications from authors regarding publication dates for their new books. I would like to think I’m above jealousy. I would like to think I’m always supportive, positive and evolved. But by the time the third email arrived announcing a major book deal, I could only see green. I wish no misery on anyone, even people I strongly dislike. I want the best for everyone. As long as that includes me, apparently.

Most writers know how easy it is to enter the “I suck” spiral and how hard it is to get out of that terrible twisting typhoon. It is easy to question whether what you do on a laptop has any meaning to anyone. It is easy to justify how other writers “made it” (they got lucky, they had a friend who was an agent, they went to an esteemed writing program, and so forth), and it is hard as hell to face down hours and hours alone in front of a blank screen, wishing, hoping, trying to get out what must be said. What must be written. In order for you to go on, to continue through the murky shadows of your life. The shadows that won’t go away; the very reason you can’t not write. If you don’t write, you wither and spoil inside. Your fragile garden within requires exposure. As writers, we question things – everything– including ourselves, especially ourselves. We ponder and process, we observe and stew, we type and delete, then we retype what we just deleted, and perhaps we scream loudly or silently or bang our fists or smack our foreheads, but then…we get back to it and keep writing. Again and again. And we hope, beyond hope (even if we don’t admit it), that someone will hear us. Validate us. Offer us a book contract.

If we’ve worked for years and years on a project, perhaps have even submitted a complete manuscript, perhaps have even acquired an agent but not yet sold the darn thing, we try to put it out of our minds. We shrug off questions, like “What’s the latest with your book?” We downplay it, answering, “It probably won’t happen,” but of course we only say this to protect ourselves. We tend to our fears rather than our creative garden within. We try to keep those demons at bay, in the closet on a shelf up high, where the scratchy woolen blankets reside. Keep them covered up, sheltered, don’t let them tumble down.

When the first email arrives, you can handle it. “Good for her,” you tell yourself. The author’s success has nothing to do with yours (or lack thereof). You quickly snap off a cheerful congratulatory email and move along with your day, which, you note later, did not include writing one solitary word.

After reading the second email, which includes tour dates for the author, you wait a while to fire off a note, but you still do it. Then you sit and contemplate the wall in front of you. You notice how much dust is on the TV, how the picture frames aren’t lined up satisfactorily on the mantle, how hairy the dog bed is, as well as your smelly yoga pants. You tell yourself to get a grip, to write your way through this. You remind yourself that the author is a very nice man, a very kind and thoughtful person who provided encouragement to you when you attended the reading of his first book. “I am happy for him,” you say out loud, trying to convince yourself.

The third note comes. You are in no mood whatsoever to reply to this one. You snap a leash on your dog and walk at a pell-mell pace that leaves you panting for air. When you return you drive to a consignment store and paw through rack after rack, snatching up a gently used cashmere sweater that will keep you warm during pity parties. Back home, you are too keyed up to do anything but walk the dog again. Your envy is of such magnitude that you’re ashamed to reveal it to your husband or your close friend. You go to bed that night torn up and worn out from feeling so little. You obsess all through the night, unable to sleep or think of anything else but the third author’s book deal. The following morning as you brew a cup of espresso you glance at a quote from Vince Lombardi that you left on the kitchen table for your children the other day: The harder you work, the luckier you become.

You flip open your laptop and Google all three authors. You want to review their credentials: their publishing credits, education and whatever else might serve as their magic sauce. You search for commonalities that might suggest you too have a chance but you’re also searching for cracks. Maybe they’re not as great as everyone seems to think, either as a person or a writer. And then you flip your computer closed and hang your gnarly head of hair in your hands. You are going nowhere fast.

A host on a radio show is talking up the Super Bowl, weighing in on Peyton Manning, quarterback for the Denver Broncos. “What I’ve always admired about Manning is that he supports other quarterbacks,” says the host. “He’s not threatened by competition.”

You pick your head up, remembering your long-ago goal, the mantra you tell your twelve-year-old twin boys and college-age nieces: Run your own race.

You think of your first writing instructor you had several years ago. The tall graceful woman with a smile dancing at the corner of her lips. The one who doesn’t tout her own book or upcoming novel on Facebook, the one who constantly and continuously praises the work of other authors. Who posts photos from their readings with warm, eloquent captions that urge friends to buy their books. Their books. Not hers.

That, you think, is the type of grace and humility you aspire to. You want to be like that. And so you craft a heartfelt note to the third author. You take your time writing it, pausing now and then to make sure you’re communicating exactly how you feel – that she’s earned and deserved her book deal. And that it obviously required a lot of hard work and you wish her every success imaginable.

And you mean every word of it.

 

An earlier version of this essay appeared on medium.com

25 thoughts on “The Green-Eyed Book Monster

  1. I love your writing and so enjoy the posts. Don’t stop. I am a fledgling and am afraid of the hard writing I need to do and don’t. Yours is from the heart and I am in awe of what you pour out.

  2. “Terrible twisting typhoon”–you always capture well what we all feel living this tumultuous life. Well done, as always!

  3. Cindy!! I love this piece! it speaks so perfectly to all those emotions that no one really wants to admit out loud yet you do it so well and even resolve it so sanely. I recently submitted (through a friend) an illustrated children’s book about Curly to Chronicle and was rejected with the comment that Curly needs a real story but they liked the illustrations. My students were all in on the drama and so invested…especially after the 3 month wait for the reply! I have to rewrite it and keep going as I told the kids “I promise I won’t give up!”

    • Suzie, for sure you need to keep going! How fantastic that you submitted a children’s book. I am going to write down what you told the students on a post-it-note and keep it in my wallet: “I promise I won’t give up!”

      You inspire me.

  4. Yee gawds, a chip off the old block? I despaired of ever getting published–actually of even finishing ‘the manuscript’. I started a book about my company–HP–in 1987 with a partner. We abandoned it four years later due to our own difficulties in writing. In 2002, we were implored to ‘try again’ by many folk at our company (remember Carly Fiorina and her reign of terror?).
    We started again, got a manuscript in a year–and five old-timers read it and ripped us a new one. We then interviewed hundreds of folk, to ‘get it right’, and four years later had a finished manuscript. In 2007. We went to Harvard Business Press, just as HP became the biggest high-tech company in revenue on the globe, surpassing IBM. HBSP, the largest biz press in the world, said “Why would anyone want to read about HP?”
    Many other publishers later, we finally got one (Stanford). After 27 months of ‘preparation” they were ready to publish, and HP sued them and us for ‘errors’ and ‘use of confidential information’ which they had earlier given us.
    After a mere 22 years, we finally held a copy.
    Was it worth it? YES. Would I want to repeat the experience? NO, NO, NO

  5. Great piece, Cindy!
    So true. Not only for writers, but also for other artists (painters, weavers, photographers, song writers, singers, etc.) We all create and hope our creations speak to or touch others. We want to connect through our work. And in the highly competitive/individualistic world that is our “home,” we are always comparing, taking measure, critiquing.

    Running your own race is good advice.
    So is: enjoy the process of creation.
    The process has its own rewards. They’re not always, or even often, monetary. But they are rich and deep.

    Rejoicing in the success of others gets easier the more we do it. It helps take us out of ourselves, helps lift us up from our constant close-up concentration on our problems/short comings. And it enriches our lives (as you no doubt know).

    See how great your post is…it’s inspired me to go on and on and on. Thank you for that, my friend.

  6. One thought more about my experience. HP invited four other authors to compete with our book when we were nearly done. All “BIG NAME” authors in the Business Press world. This was before they sued us, to try to stop our book.
    All four said “YES” but only one finished his book. It of course got a ‘REAL PUBLISHER” and sold ten times ours, hitting the street 30 months before ours–riddled with cliches, borrowed Wikipedia material, and serious untruths.
    At least our publisher had the courage to publish against HP’s harassment.
    Later, the ‘theft author’ told me the hardest thing about being an author isn’t getting the book published, but the first time you see your book on the REMAINDER table at a bookstore.

  7. Take heart–your writing is so poignant, so personal, so evocative that your voice will be heard. When–not if–you are ‘discovered’ it will be like music for so many readers. And your agent will brag about how she found you!

  8. So true, Cynthia. So painfully true. I have always had a special fondness for the play “Amadeus” because I think Salieri’s battle with the “green-eyed monster” speaks to the feelings of all creative people (maybe all people?) who envy the (perceived) talent, success, achievement of others. We all live there and, sadly, in my (limited) experience, it doesn’t really get any better after publication because there is always going to be someone who gets a better deal, better reviews, more attention. All they say is true: we just need to keep at it, do our best work, and hope to find our audience. But it is really hard to do. And it can drive you to madness. Just ask Peter Shaffer’s Salieri (who didn’t even get the play in which he is the LEAD character named after him!)

  9. Another wonderful writing! So basically you’re saying you are human. 😊 I love your honesty and the way you tell the story. Very nice my friend.
    Love,
    Traci

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