“I have forgotten that men cannot see Unicorns. If men no longer know what they’re looking at, there may be other unicorns in the world yet, unknown. I’m glad of it.” ~ The Last Unicorn, Peter S. Beagle
This is the Year of the Quest.
Even now I am digging out the armor – alarmingly rusty, I find, and in serious need of a polish. There are some dents, and it doesn’t quite fit right any more. It’s been a long time since I went out on a quest.
I am also sharpening my Vorpal Sword, for I am certain I will need it.
I’m after the missing magic. There’s been a dearth of it around my house for quite some time. Looking back, I’m not sure when it disappeared because I wasn’t paying attention. That’s what happens to things when you’re careless – they are lost, or stolen. You sit down to think about when you last had it, and come up with only dim memories and desire.
Where has my focus been? On my so-called Real Life, of course. I’ve been busy Being Responsible. Working, taking care of the house, feeding teenage boys, worrying about things like money and the economy and The End of Life as We Know It. I’ve been occupied with Writing Books, and Querying, and Getting Published.
Somewhere in the middle of all that, the Magic headed out for a more welcoming climate.
Now that it is gone, I realize how much I miss it, and the brilliant color it gave to my days. I yearn for it, I mourn the loss. And I want it back.
What does this mean?
There must be more walks in the snow, and when spring comes, more attention to new leaves, and flowers, and hummingbirds. More time offline. Poetry – both reading and writing. Getting out of the house to do new things. Small gifts to myself, perhaps. Paying attention to dreams. Capturing a word here, a phrase there, that reminds me there is more to my life than what my senses are reporting.
Chances are good I’m going to have days where I will regret setting out on this Quest, but I really have no choice. The most dangerous enemy of all, the Great Dark, has dared to pursue me into my own home of late. The only true way to defeat the Great Dark is to find the Magic.
And so. Vorpal Sword in hand, armor polished and repaired, I’m off.
For starters, it’s time to re-read The Last Unicorn. And if you haven’t read it, and are in search of a little magic of your own, this would be a fine place to begin.
“Listen all you people come gather round
Gotta get me a game plan gotta shake you to the ground.
Just give me what I know is mine
People do you hear me just give me the sign
It ain’t much I’m asking if you want the truth
Here’s to the future for the dreams of youth
I want it all (give it all) I want it all I want it all and I want
I want it all (yes I want it all) I want it all (hey)
I want it all and I want it now” ~Queen
Some days I feel like this is my publishing theme song. I want it all – an agent, a publishing contract, a book with my name on it for sale and, of course, placement near the top of a bestseller list or two while I’m at it. I’ve worked for it. I deserve it. I’m just that good.
(Hush, all you who know how truly neurotic and paranoid I am about my own writing abilities. This is writing, so I get creative leeway, and all that.)
Every morning, I find myself waiting for the Great Publishing Fairy to come along and offer me three wishes. Unlike every fairytale character in the course of history, I would make wise choices for my wishes. My life, and the lives of all those around me would be immeasurably better.
Lately, based on close observation of writers I follow on Twitter, as well as people I actually talk to, I’ve developed a sneaking suspicion that this is wrong.
Writers with agents, writers with contracts, and even writers with published books aren’t any more happy and contented than we of the unrepresented and unpublished masses.
There. I’ve said it. Don’t believe me? Let’s just walk through those three wishes.
Once the fairy grants me this, all my troubles will be over. I will feel validated in my writing ability, because somebody in the industry loves my work. My agent will be all knowing and right about everything. She will guide me, gently and kindly, into a lovely publishing contract without any further effort from me.
In reality, as I’ve observed writers connecting with agents, I’ve witnessed an interesting phenomenon – an increase in anxiety, if anything. An upsurge in thoughts like, “what if I’m not good enough? What if he hates my revisions? What if I can’t do enough, be enough? What if it’s just a cruel joke?”
I’ve also seen people who have personality conflicts with agents. I’ve seen people whose agents released them from contracts because their books didn’t sell. I know writers who have had an agent for several years and still don’t have that elusive publishing contract.
Oh, and another thing? This agent I’ve newly acquired requires immediate work from me. Icky, scary things like bios, and book blurbs, and pitches. I don’t get to sit back and just let the magic happen. There are even more rejections as my book gets pitched to editors who don’t understand my brilliance any more than all of those agents that turned me down before.
But, just for the sake of argument, let’s say the Publishing Fairy waves her magic wand and grants me that second wish.
A major publishing house has presented a contract for a three book deal. It’s a good contract. I sign it, under guidance of my wonderful agent, and NOW I am finally contented.
Now there are more revisions. Manuscript revisions so extensive that I wonder why on earth they bought my book in the first place if they hate it so. There are edits, and line edits and deadlines. And if I had worries before that my writing just wasn’t good enough – now I’m facing the reality of all of my faults and failings being out for all the world to see.
Since this was a multi-book deal, I also have more books to write, this time with deadlines and expectations. No room for writer’s block. No time to dally.
But that’s okay because I am lucky enough to have the Magical Publishing Fairy to grant me that one final and most wonderful wish:
See how I was smart and combined two wishes in one? Not stupid, like those fairytale people at all. We all know that just because a book is published doesn’t mean it will be successful. But, if it’s a bestseller, I can quite my day job and just write books and be on Oprah and travel all over speaking about writing.
And this is where reality finally sinks in. There are no more wishes. And I am still not content.
The book is on a bestseller list, but it certainly isn’t making enough money for me to quit my job. Several critics have written scathing reviews and said nasty things not only about my characters and my plot, but about my writing. I’ve received emails from people who hate me and want me to die because I killed off a character they liked. Other fans – Twitter and Facebook friends, people who comment on my blog – expect replies and interaction and get nasty if I don’t have time.
And I truly don’t have time, because I still have the day job, and now I need to write another book. One better than the last one, preferably, so people don’t think I’m a one shot wonder. I am now beset by doubt. What if my agent doesn’t like the new book? What if my publisher doesn’t like it? What if my fans hate it?
Fortunately I have the Magical Publishing Fairy – oh, wait. I’m fresh out of wishes. And still not content.
So where am I going with all this? I’m going to suggest, very firmly to myself and to anybody else who is reading, that no amount of happiness, validation, or contentment is going to come to me through the publishing industry. This doesn’t mean, for a moment, that I will stop working as hard as I can to get published.
What it does mean is this: I plan to take steps to seek happiness, validation, and contentment in living the creative life and being present in this moment, this now. I plan to write for the experience of these characters, this story, the absorbing challenge of wrestling an idea from the shadowy recesses of my twisted brain and onto the page.
The rest of it – the publishing part? I want to achieve the goals of finding an agent, a publisher, creating a salable product. I want to walk through the mall and see people sitting on the benches reading a book that has my name on it.
It’s good to want things in life.