I had no idea how fortunate I was when, after having finally gathering up the courage to give writing a try, the first draft of my first novel was picked up by an agent almost immediately. She didn't sell it, but sold the second novel (also a first draft!) in the first round of submissions. Night Watch was published by Harper & Row in 1982. It got excellent reviews. I was a writer to watch, according to “Publishers Weekly.” Then it vanished… as most first novels do.
I struggled with the next novel for several years, trying and failing find a way to translate my editor's astute observations about the book into a successfully revised text. The truth was, I’d written those first two novels by some combination of instinct and dumb luck. Now I actually had to learn to write. I was desperate to follow Night Watch with another book before it (and I) had completely sunk into oblivion. But when I expressed the anxiety I was feeling about my writing career to my editor, she said, “Real writers don’t think about careers. They write.”
I paid attention. I wrote from my heart—eventually publishing four (soon to be five) more novels, even winning a fair number of awards for them, along the way. But I’d have starved to death long ago if I’d had to survive on the money I made from them. And as for my so-called career as a writer, it’s pretty much dead in the water.
In case you are thinking this is a sour grapes kind of thing about how my editor failed me, it’s so not! I still believe she was right. But I also know (now) that books are not so different from children: if you want them to be able to live and flourish in the world, you have to take care of them. Why I’m writing is to see if, at this late date, the fabulous writing process might surprise me into figuring out…how.
Sitting, staring at screen, stuck, sitting, staring at screen, stuck, sitting, staring at screen, stuck, sitting, staring at screen, stuck, sitting, staring at screen, stuck, sitting, staring at screen, stuck, sitting, staring at screen, stuck, sitting, staring...
I knew all along.
There is no magic plan crouching in my subconscious waiting to reveal itself, just stuff to do—lots of it, some large, some small, some relatively painless, some truly horrendous to contemplate. (Like, calling up someone and asking for a favor. Or dropping into to bookstores, saying, “Hi, I’m Barbara Shoup and I’d love to introduce you to my new book, Everything You Want…”)
Oh. My. God. I’m breaking out in a cold sweat just typing this.
But I really am going to do it this time. I really, really, really am.
So if you’re reading this, write and ask me what I’ve done for my book today. If I’m on track, I’ll write back, thrilled to let you know. If I’ve been a slacker, I’ll do something—quick—so I won’t have to lie.