People in the writing world say writing and getting published is a journey. And I think you’re supposed to enjoy the ride because people say things like, “Enjoy the writing and don’t focus on publication as the destination.” But I’m calling bullshit on this.
I bet if you ask published authors if their pre-publication life was more satisfying than their post-publication life, they’d say post-publication. That doesn’t mean I think published authors sit around with a day-to-day satisfaction like “AH, I’ve arrived at my vacation destination. It’s all beaches and mojitos from here on out.” Of course it’s not. I imagine it’s more like that feeling of making the leap from being the eager volunteer whose name no one remembers to finally being offered the chance to work and invest in a company you believe in, where over time you can look back over your hard work and feel less lonely because the company also invested in you and committed (both editors and readers) to your work with all its vulnerabilities and fascinating universal truths.
At least that’s what I hope for with publication–a sense that my hard work has become OUR hard work. And together, we’ve sought truth and love and beauty. (And also I’ll be able to look at my work outside myself and feel that I was a part of things–there will be a token that says I existed with you all.)
And if my hopes are valid, the hard work of publication will surely be more rewarding than the journey towards it. Because here’s what the journey towards it really feels like to me:
I get into my trusty car, turn on my beloved GPS (agent), and set the destination to “Published.” The GPS calculates a course with no way for me to zoom out and see the whole map or even the estimated time of arrival. That’s okay, I’ll take it one mile at a time. Now I like to think of myself as a kind driver. I mean, I will curse the shit out of you if you cut me off or drive even 1 mile under the speed limit, but you will never hear me yelling because it’s impolite, and somewhere along the line I was taught that politeness is next to godliness when it comes to driving (and trying to get published). And I hate the unsafe feeling I have when I or anyone else breaks traffic rules.
So, I drive along, politely. And the trees are changing colors, which is beautiful, and this helps me forget I could be in the car for 10 hours or 10 minutes. I convince myself to just accept that it’s probably 10 hours. And all along I’m listening for the GPS to tell me when to turn left or right, so it’s hard to keep listening but at the same time not think about the 10 hours. Yes, the trees are beautiful, but after 10 seconds, it gets tricky to stay enraptured by the beauty.
And while I’m balancing the impatience and beauty, I get honked at. Sometimes it’s because I sat 1 second too long at a green light and it’s a beep-beep that’s not too traumatizing. But still, I feel bad that I’ve gotten in someone’s way. And it keeps happening. Beep beep. Beep beep.
Like 40 times in 4 hours. It’s startling every time. I can’t see or ask what I’m doing wrong. I can only wonder. And at this point the honking is happening so much that it makes me cry about every 10th time. So I call all my friends and they say things like, “It’s not your driving. There are just idiots on the road with you.” But I think to myself, 40 times. No, it must be me. I decide I’m going back to driving school. I even pull the car over and read a driving manual. One quarter of the way through I’m convinced I am after all a decent driver–better than decent. And that indeed my friends are right. There are just idiots on the road. So now while I’m trying to pay attention to the GPS and not wonder “HOW MUCH LONGER” and focus on the beautiful trees, I’m also still wondering why I’ve been honked at 40 times. It’s just not normal. They can’t ALL be idiots. Trees! Focus on the trees!
I drive on. The GPS finally says that I should turn left at Albuquerque. Awesome, a new direction feels good. But there’s an accident ahead, so I get recalculated. I’m reminded that I may die before I get to my destination. So I go back to trying to see beauty in the changing color of the trees. I focus on how there’s a green tree next to a yellow tree next to a red tree. Wow, it’s like nature’s stop light–and then HOOOOOOONNNNKK! Not a beep-beep-excuse-me-ma’am honk, but a blaring one that causes my heart to skip beats, and I reflexively swerve to the right. The other driver keeps honking, so I pull over more to let her pass, never knowing exactly what I did to cause such aggression. It feels so personal even though I know it’s not. I think to myself the stupidest things like, This honker is clearly a republican and if I just wouldn’t have had that liberal bumper sticker on my fender, then surely she wouldn’t have honked at me. Or maybe if it had been a fellow Suburu driver then he would’ve understood me better. Or maybe it’s because I’m from out of town and I don’t understand the regional customs that aren’t in the driving manual. And I cry out at the GPS, “I’m trying! I’m trying! I’m trying so hard!”
“Recalculating” the GPS answers.
It starts to rain and now I have one more thing that I need to focus on. So my grip on the wheel becomes superhuman. I can and WILL make it to the destination. I visualize the destination. My editor smells like corn nuts, but she motivates me so well! HOOOOOOOOOOONNNKKK!
I pull over, shaking, and have another cry. But soon enough, that feels unproductive and I’m wasting time, so I get back on the road a bit more timidly than before. Or more ragey depending on the moment.
More honking, more beautiful trees, more doubt, more hours passing. So many hours pass that I think maybe I should’ve chosen a career with a really nice view of skyscrapers instead of these damn trees. I hate the trees, actually! I stop the car and kick one of the trees. “You’re ugly and far too quiet!” But then it provides me an apple and I’m tempted beyond control to keep driving. Surely, SURELY, I’m almost there.
I drive on and just when I think things are going to be okay, the GPS breaks. It was a precious gift and the most important thing I had besides my ability to drive and see the beautiful trees. How could it break? How could it let me down? I feel lost without it. Shit, I AM literally lost without it. So, I pull over and work to save up for another one. It takes a long time and I wish wish wish I were driving: I have a destination. Then it takes an equally long time to find a GPS store. They are sometimes not visible from the road. I ache, and I’m so scared I’ll never find one, and I wish I had a GPS for finding a GPS store. But I can only wander around until I find the store. I hate wasting time wandering around when I already have a destination–one to which I’m beginning to believe I may arrive quite late. And damn it, why are GPSs in such high demand? Why does it seems like the stores are always sold out? UGH!!! And WHY am I the person who is always lost and that had the shitty GPS that broke? It should have happened to someone who has a better sense of direction because mine is the worst! Sincerely the WORST. I can’t even find my way to the airport if I haven’t practiced going there 10 times. I mean seriously, put spiders and slugs and snakes in my car and that would be less stressful than being in there with a GPS that gave up on me!
But finally, after getting honked at about 30 more times and feeling frazzled and banging my head on the steering wheel and crying and feeling totally lost and unsure if I will see beauty in the trees again, I find a store that has the GPS in stock and is actually willing to let me have it. THANK the heavens and earth that I’m finally going to head back toward my destination! It feels sooooo good to go in the right direction. At least for a few moments.
Because then I realize that 10 hours have passed and I’m still driving and have been honked at 91 times. (This is really the number of rejections I have accumulated in ten years of writing.) And finally, holy shit, the GPS announces that I am arriving at my destination!
Holy shit. The office building where I’ll begin a tough but meaningful career is before me. In the beautiful lobby, the receptionist is so overworked, her hair is falling out and she clearly hasn’t eaten in weeks. She’s an intern or a volunteer with high hopes. And I think to myself, I know you. When I’m not driving, I AM you. No. I WAS you. But now I’m starting my real career. I call my friends and they are so SO happy that they can stop asking if I’ve finally gotten the job. I’m SO happy that I’ve relaxed and stopped smiling through pain–like the receptionist is doing right now. I say confidently, “You’ll get there someday. It will be worth it.” She wants to punch my throat, but I just feel so relieved that I’m going to get to start working here!
The receptionist takes me to a room where I’m about to sign a contract, and she succinctly says–still smiling–”I’m so sorry. Your position was eliminated. I’m not sure why exactly, but perhaps you’d like to apply for a different position?”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” I say. I say it because it’s polite and dignified. But really the only course of action I have is to get back in the car. And I cannot believe I am walking out of the building smiling at those other assholes going in.
“Recalculating,” the GPS kindly says when I’m back in my trusty car.
Before pressing down on the gas, I sit alone with the knowledge that I may have another 10 minutes or another 10 hours until I reach my new destination. I can’t imagine getting honked at 91 more times. I can’t imagine telling my friends that I ended up at that wrong destination after such a harrowing trip, but it’s okay because I really do enjoy volunteering as the receptionist at one of the beautiful buildings where others are hard at work building a community of readers around fascinating universal truths, and besides it’s about the journey and aren’t the trees beautiful and at least it’s not raining anymore. I can’t imagine saying it, but that’s exactly what I do.
Well, not EXACTLY, because this time I admit that the journey sucks and I admit that I really do think the grass is greener (not easier) on the other side. Perhaps this makes me seem ungrateful or maybe entitled or self-loathing. And I am those things on occasion just like I’m kind and polite and hard-working on other occasions, but overall I understand the world owes me nothing, and this makes the urge to get in my car and do SOMETHING all the stronger. I think maybe it is a brave thing to want something more than the journey and to believe that the destination has something more profound and satisfying to offer than the journey–like celebrating the beauty of the trees with more than just yourself. So if you know a writer who is stuck in traffic and getting honked at and recalculated, perhaps the thing to say is not, “Enjoy the journey.” Perhaps it’s better to say something like, “Your endurance is impressive,” or “I admire your hard work,” or “Honking sucks,” or “How about some drive-thru shakes?”