During my time as a writer, I’ve had a few different experiences with the world of publishing. Sadly, the rug has always been pulled out from me. Each time that I thought I was well on my way to becoming a solid writer, with an agent I liked (and who understood my work), and a publisher for my work, blammo. I was left muddy and bruised on the playing field, wondering who had just blitzed me.
As a reporter, you have a constant medium for your work. Which is nice, apart from the fact that you don’t always get to work on the stories you like or write as creatively as you might otherwise do. The good news is that, through the painstaking routine of submitting your work to the editors, you learn how to write. Really write. Tight, descriptive prose.
When I transitioned, or tried to transition, into fiction, I had to learn the process of writing all over again. By that time, I was a terrific reporter, but a lousy fictional stylist. I would post an excerpt of one of my first “short stories,” but it would be too traumatic to see that early stuff in print (even on a blog). Through the process of crafting a really messy medical thriller with my first literary agent, I learned to write more fluidly in another genre. I was deep into the redrafting of the book when my agent got fired. When I got back up off the sack, I quarterbacked my book into print through the decision to self-publish. It felt like trying to get a first down when your team is already three touchdowns behind.
After my personal essay on courage was published on NPR, a literary agent contacted me about the possibility of writing a memoir. I did some soul-searching and agreed to turn the essay into a book. To do so, I started the painful process of learning to write creative non-fiction. I got a scholarship to the inaugural Norman Mailer Writers’ Colony and began to hone my craft. The upshot of this was that I discovered I loved writing creative non-fiction. My memoir chapters were good. Dark, but good.
My agent, whom I adored, decided to quit the business altogether.
I felt blitzed all over again. I started to wonder: Was I the type of lucky, talented writer who would eventually publish a book? Or just another unlucky, talented writer who would remain unpublished for life? It had been a rough series of ups and downs, small victories and losses for me. I began to feel like the QB who is approaching middle-age and starts to worry that he’ll never quite get that Superbowl ring.
In the end, I put the memoir aside and focused on writing the best damn dissertation on the 2009 H1N1 pandemic that it was possible for me to write. And now, still in the draft phase – but confident that what I’m writing is pretty great, I have some positive interest from the editors at a great Ivy League press. I don’t want to get *too* excited about the possibility of getting my manuscript accepted for publication, in part because I do not want to jinx myself.
In other words, here I go again.
I suppose the “moral” of this story, if there is one, is that good writing doesn’t go unrecognized. When you keep writing, sometimes magical things happen. Sometimes, you get knocked back down the field a bit. The important point, I suppose, is to stay in the game.
Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose!