Getting published is great! I’ve heard. I mean, I’ve gotten things published . . . just not exactly the project I WANT to get published. Not my SOUL novel. That is with my agent right now after years of writing it–and I feel super lucky to have gotten this far even.
And anxious. And inadequate. And way, way, way far behind. Did I mention anxious?
So, this is the time where I must remind myself that while getting multiple books published would be lovely, it’s sort of beside the point. Being a part of this community is seductive. It’s wonderful to participate in the tweets and the Facebook posts and the Tumblrs and the railing against those who love to besmirch children’s books (which must happen, this railing, since this besmirching seems to happen all the time) and to go to meet ups and readings and talk to others who are getting published. And it’s easy to believe this is the heart of the matter. After all, we have the smartest, most engaged, most awesomest community of writers in the history of the world*. These are soul-satisfying people, posts, talks. But it’s not the rub, my friends.
The writing’s the thing.
This is true no matter what phase you are in. There is always something to be anxious about in our business. Getting published, getting reviews, getting sales, getting on lists, getting recognition. At each stage, the noise of the outside can be overwhelming. So I am here to tell you: it doesn’t matter. None of it. It doesn’t! No matter what stage you’re in or what manner of anxiety chases you, it just doesn’t matter. At the end of the day, you are a writer. You write. Because you have something to say. You write what you love because that’s the only truth there is.
I can hear your argument, so let me address it. You say, “But Megan, getting published, getting reviews, getting sales, getting on lists, getting recognition has real-world consequences.” And you are correct. These things can affect getting jobs, getting your next book published, meeting the “right” people, feeling like an insider. But when those worries start crowding out your ideas, whither the writer in you. Nothing dries up ideas and joy like pressure and fear. You are no longer doing YOU when this happens. You become the sum of what these worries are, something out of your control, capricious, and unstable**. So you must always come back to the heart of the matter, the ACTUAL reason you’re enduring this blogpost, or going to readings, Tumbling, and tweeting.
The writing. From your soul. The story that sings to you.
Normally, I am not a kumbaya person. I don’t like to throw around ambiguous words like “soul” or “heart” or “writer.” And I feel a little bit like the writer version of Cosmopolitan here where I say “Have confidence and certain publisher will notice you! Be yourself so you can get something out of it!” But I don’t mean it that way. I mean it as in: at the end of the day, it’s you and your words.
I went to Hamline because I wanted to teach writing. And in the process, I became a writer. But not because I have 45 publishing contracts. Because I found out this is something I love to do. That honing this craft gives ME pleasure, feeds MY soul. I am thrilled that I have an agent now and I hope to hell that this book sells. But if it doesn’t, I am OK with that.
Because: The writing’s the thing.
Now stop reading this and go write! You have a story to tell.
* This is a true, undeniable fact that needs no source because it is true and undeniable.
** Lists, starred reviews, and awards are lovely. But so much depends upon the red wheelbarrow—that is, the million different considerations that go into these things and coalesce around timing, luck, status, and hard work. But not in equal measure. I am certainly not trying to take away from these things. It’s just . . . they aren’t why you’re here, right?
Megan Atwood is a 2009 graduate of the Hamline MFAC program and the author of several books. She is also an adjunct in Hamline’s Creative Writing program. She lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota.