Monday, December 12, 2016

Stop and Wait a While

Every day, it feels like the world is turning faster. Things that were huge news in the morning are
A post by Mary Fan
long forgotten by the afternoon, displaced by the next attention-grabbing thing. Maybe it’s because of technology speeding everything up. Maybe it’s because our youth-obsessed culture makes it seem like life runs out long before it actually does. Life is short, they say. Make the most of every moment, they say.

In the book world, this manifests through binge readers who devour three books a week, high-energy bloggers who post exciting new content every day, and mass-production authors who churn out tens of thousands of words every week. No doubt there are many who thrive in this kind of environment. But for many others, it can quickly get exhausting, and the pressure can make a person implode.

But here’s the thing: life is long. A person can graduate from college, spend 20 years in one career, start a new career in their 40s, and still have a 30-40-year-long career in that second field. That’s a LOT of time to work with. And wasting time has its uses.

I’ve spent the past five or so years trying to be one of those mass-production authors, finishing at least two full-length manuscripts a year while working full-time, sprinkling in short works on top of that, binge-reading in an attempt to keep up with the industry, and volunteering to beta-read dozens of manuscripts. It was a rush at first, a thrill ride. And no matter how many times I told myself that “this isn’t a race,” I could never quite bring myself to believe it. I wanted it all, and I wanted it ASAP. And all those stories about first-time authors who got huge publishing deals made it seem possible… I just had to work hard enough.

2016 has been an awful year on many fronts, and for me, it was the year of setbacks. My productivity machine broke—writing goals got missed for no other reason than I couldn’t bring myself to hit them. Broken promises and a pile of rejections took their toll. I got sucked into a social media whirlwind that started out fun but soon turned ugly and left me anxious and confused. It was the year that turned something I loved into something I feared… it got to the point where I couldn’t even read a book because all I’d see were all the randomness and industry shenanigans that led to its production… all the meaningless luck and invisible privileges that led one book to be Chosen while leaving another, equally good or better, to languish. It was the year that turned me into the kind of cynical pessimist that, this time last year, my idealistic, hopeful self would have wanted to smack.

And yet, it’s only one year. Even if it extends into two or three, it’s still a tiny fraction of a lifetime.

Today’s motivational mantra is to power through, to keep marching even when you’re exhausted. But maybe it’s time to stop and wait a while. Of course, publishing is all about waiting… waiting months to get feedback, to receive a yes or no, to see artwork. And the faster the world turns, the more agonizing the waiting seems.

But life is long… mind-blowingly so. There are people who have had careers for longer than I’ve been alive… careers they didn’t start until they were well over my current age. So maybe all that waiting isn’t a bad thing. It’s time to recuperate, time to mull, time for the scattered motes of new ideas to form into something workable.


Kimberly G. Giarratano said...

I think I needed to hear this as much as you needed to write it -- this industry is baffling and yet we keep at it. We're not suckers for punishment as slaves to our art. Let's hope 2017 is better.

Brenda St John Brown said...

Bring on 2017! I, too, really needed this today! I'm very susceptible to the pressure to produce and get really down when I'm not meeting the arbitrary goals I've set. But that fails to take into account life in general and time to mull is severely underrated!

Mary Fan said...

Yeah... The bar is pretty low for 2017!

Mary Fan said...

*solidarity hug* it really is!

Carrie Beckort said...

Thanks for the post, Mary! It can be hard to remember that we're all running our own race. And even then, it's OK to walk a bit if necessary.

Cheryl Oreglia said...

Awe Mary, thank you for so beautifully expressing my inner turmoil. I am old, I worry I don't have enough time left, I thought I was the only one who struggled with social media, consistent content, and failed goals. I love knowing I have a tribe batteling the same demons. Keep typing, one word at a time, on-word.

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