by Anna Sheehan
Success is a strange room to suddenly find yourself in. Having spent all my life amidst the crocodile swamps on the front lawn of the publishing industry mansion – or occasionally huddling, loose leaf papers in hand on the front porch, waiting for the butler to let me into the entry foyer – I got used to being an outcast. It’s a well-worn path. The front porch is littered with the abandoned manuscripts of those who came before and left unsatisfied. The swamp is also littered with dire warning signs of those who never made it to the porch: "Impossible," "Commercial sellouts," and (my personal favorite), "A waste of time."
But, those who dodge the crocodiles and the nay-sayers, who patiently wait out the interminable time between Query and Acceptance, doggedly beginning the journey again when the answer, inevitably, is "no," will eventually find that front door opened. The inhabitants of the mansion will peep out the window and see you patiently waiting. Perhaps, as in my case, they’ll realize, "I’ve seen her out there before, haven’t I?" You’ll catch an agent’s eye, or an editor’s heart, and suddenly there you will be, in the foyer, awaiting further discovery.
And then your path changes. Beginning again isn’t such an arduous journey. You have a friend in that mansion, and your agent or editor has shown you the back door, where there are no crocodiles, and you don’t have to wait for the butler to let you in.
So where to go now?
The initial excitement after getting that first paycheck makes perfect sense. It’s a bit like winning the lottery. But after that there’s a continual potential for more. Your role in the world changes. In my case, I am no longer the mad eccentric living in my mother’s garage, a drain on the country’s resources and full of pipe dreams. Suddenly I am an "Author." Everyone’s opinion of me has changed. I’m no longer, "playing on the computer." Suddenly everyone says I’m, "working." Discussing characters or plot problems are no longer "going on and on" but "problem-solving." All those books I buy year after year are no longer "a waste of space." They become, "market research." And those writer’s conferences? They’re not a self-indulgent waste of time and money. Suddenly they’re an important marketing resource, and a vital outreach to my fellow work colleagues.
But I am still the same. It is not me or my writing that has changed. It is the world around me.
So now I am writing for a purpose, rather than just indulging in pipe dreams. Now I have a goal and a place in the mansion, and wasting my time with something I know isn’t commercial is just that – a waste of my valuable time. Before, both the stories that were commercial and the stories that weren’t were on the same page. Now, they can’t be. Granted, I can pass off something silly as a "writing exercise," or "structure research," but basically, this isn’t a game anymore. Because everyone says it isn’t.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m in heaven. This is where I’ve always wanted to be, and I’m thrilled to be here. But I didn’t realize the difference between being "inside" and being "outside." The difference isn’t in me. It’s in everyone else.
There are a thousand different rooms in this mansion. Though I’m well through the front door, I have yet to find my own room in it. I have a lot of corridors and chambers to explore. But I look out those windows all the time. I see those still slogging through the swamp, or waiting patiently on the porch for that final, glorious acceptance, and invitation inside. I wish I could reach out and tell them they might as well already be here, and that being in isn’t really so very different from being out.
It’s very strange to find myself standing inside the industry I have always watched from afar. All the research in the world can’t prepare you for it. But I find I have to remind myself why I’m writing. Now that I’m "legitimate" everyone else has their own ideas, and they are trying to impose them on me.
I am not writing for that prestigious title of "Author."
I am not writing for the justification of all my hard work.
I am now an official "author." But that does not mean I am now writing with a "legitimate excuse."
And I am certainly not writing for the money.
So why am I doing it?
I am writing for the same reason I faced all those crocodiles and waited on that porch for my next inevitable rejection. I am writing because I write. It is who I am and what I do. Nothing has changed. If I was still wasting my time, reading books and playing on the computer when I should have been being "more productive," I’d still be writing.
So, my agent expects another book in a few months. I’m almost done. But I think I’ll write something silly for myself, before I finish. It’s structure research. It’s legitimate. Honest.
Just a little something to feed to those crocodiles.
Anna Sheehan is the author of A Long Long Sleep(Candlewick, 2011) You can find her at annasheehan.com