Trying To Get Published Made Me Kind of Miserable
You might find this post disingenuous since I already got a book deal; shelve that cynicism—at least until the end. I’m writing with unfiltered empiricism.
A great struggle in my life has been to pursue something without letting it consume me. Exuberance defines me; I don’t know why, it’s the way I was made. That can be good—like how it motivated me to sprint into a packed lecture hall at Penn State wearing a heart-covered t-shirt and proclaim HAPPY SIX MONTHS to my then girlfriend (now wife). But it can just as easily make me miserable—like when I threw all of myself into trying to get published. Here’s how:
1) Odds were I’d never get published. Less than 2% of completed manuscripts get a book deal. That statistic gnawed at me daily. Why wouldn’t it? The only logical response to this industry standard was crushing defeat—a feeling of frustrated worthlessness that I failed at that one thing I wanted. My heart perpetually had a book-shaped hole in it. I still loved to write; it still made me come alive. But each query rejection pushed me closer toward a feeling of obsolescence. Some nights my chest ached so bad that I actually couldn’t sleep; I cried once. I began to believe that only getting published would bring me lasting worth—even when a host of other things were, in reality, equal or surpassing in worth. Things like my actual job. Things like loving and investing in my wife and daughter. Things like helping the poor and sick in my community. Things that have lasting significance. Somehow, along the way, getting published went from a goal to a preeminent love. It consumed me. And while I still loved my story, trying to get it out into the world often made me kind of miserable.
Then I crossed over.
2) I’m getting published—but the shimmer has already begun to fade. I still wake up giddy that my dream has come true; but each time I do, the giddiness lessens. It’s not unlike staring into my closet each morning at that pair of shoes. When I bought them last year they actually made me feel like a better person; now they bore me. I’ve actually been thinking about going shopping. OK, fine—so I’ll just write another book. For a while it will feel good again—more heaping praise from friends and Twitter. But I know I’ll crave more. Maybe I write again and again and again; but the hunger will creep back. The joy I once had will turn out to be only circumstantial happiness more fleeting than morning dew. Like the first scenario, I’ll find less satisfaction in things that actually matter because what I’ve built my life around has not done what I hoped it would: fulfill me completely and indefinitely. I’ll have exactly what I wanted, but it won't be enough. Quite surprisingly, I might still be kind of miserable.
This all sounds depressing; but it’s actually incredibly freeing. See, if I lower this pursuit of getting (or being) published to its proper place in my life, relief floods in. Why? Because I’m no longer exceeding the weight limit that the thing was meant to have. Let’s say I never got published. Yes, I would be incredibly bummed (exuberant people get very, very bummed—ask anyone who knows me). But after all the bumming, I’d realize that it didn’t really matter as much as I thought. I’d see a book for what it was: a book. I’d also be spared the illusion that getting published would make me eternally happy—and the ensuing emptiness when it doesn’t. And if I do get published, I’m not fooled by the shimmer. I’ll still celebrate and revel and get super freaking excited—all things I’ve done since my book deal. But if guard my priorities, I won’t grow hollow when the excitement wears off—which it will. Arguably, I’ll enjoy it more because I see it for what it is: something really, intensely cool—a serious accomplishment. But something temporary. Something fleeting.
I struggle with this every single day; some days every moment. The stirring in my chest—once angst from the not yet and now joy from the finally—echoes an ongoing battle for supremacy. Writing has always wanted to be preeminent, and when I let it, it actually robbed me of some serious joy. I missed out on a lot of incredible moments and opportunities over the last couple of years because I was either tucked away writing or lost in my mind bemoaning my perceived writing failures. To believe that getting published would result in a different outcome flies in the face of what I know to be true about my own heart. However counterintuitive, I’m convinced that the more I build my life around writing—regardless of success—the more miserable I could very well become.
But the thing is, I can’t stop writing. Like exuberance, it’s part of me. It makes me feel alive. So what now?
What nothing. I keep writing. I just don’t let it take over.
Which is easier said than done.