Let’s face it: unless you are spectacularly lucky, your first book is crap. I know mine was.
Many authors I’ve met over the years never managed to publish their first five or six books. Some of them didn’t publish until they hit twelve or thirteen. Others still have vast bodies of work and a meager to moderate self-publishing audience.
And that’s okay. The first rule of writing is always “you do you.” But it’s lonely to push work out into the void. You’ve done all of this incredible writing, and no one wants to read it.
My first big disappointment
I stayed up late into the wee hours on my birthday in 2003, finishing my first feature-length screenplay at 7:00 am after writing for sixteen hours. I’d finished my biggest project to date, a long labor of love.
I didn’t go to sleep. I went to college classes, my chest swollen with pride… but no one gave a shit. No one wanted to read it, and it would be several months before any of my friends took a look. I had to arrange reading parties to hear what they thought.
That month was the loneliest November of my life. I didn’t have a significant other. No one threw me a party. We had finals, and no one cared that I’d done this thing I always wanted to do. I sank into a deep depression, feeling neglected and entitled to my friends’ attentions (which, of course, is a garbage way to be).
As it turns out, that’s the norm.
Over the course of my professional career so far, I’ve managed to accumulate a few precious, precious beta readers. If you’re reading this and you’re one of them, thank goodness for you. But I don’t know a lot of writers who’d be excited to spend a year working to write a book for two people.
If you finish a book and you’re self-publishing, it’s going to take awhile to pick up steam. If you’re traditionally-publishing, it’ll be over a year before your book appears on shelves, and that’s only if no part of the fragile process fucks up entirely.
How can we combat the loneliness?
A lot of us don’t live around other full-time writers. I’m lucky to have a great writing group here in Huntsville, but they’re eclectic and not all novelists. I want to be able to sit down with my other novel-writing pals and shout, “I did it again!” and they, knowing the sense of achievement will say, “Well done, friendo!” And then we’ll have a bunch of drinks and behave regrettably.
As it turns out, that’s the answer right there: a victory ritual. For the past three books now, I’ve made it a point to go out for a steak dinner with a writer friend the week I finished a book. I save up for it and splurge a bit, celebrating the work I did.
Because that’s the important part, isn’t it? You did the work. You showed up once more to take a beating in front of your computer/typewriter/notepad. It’s time to treat yourself.
And if I sell a book, I get an upgrade. That’s the only time I’ll purchase a fountain pen (because, until recently, that was the only time I had enough money). My latest book features racing in space, and I’ve got a bottle of G.H. Mumm Champagne waiting in a cabinet for the second I cross that finish line. When my agent calls me and tells me we sold it, I’m cracking that bottle open and drinking the whole freaking thing. And after a year of writing and a ton of edits, it’s going to taste sweeter than any drink I’ve ever had.
So treat yourself!
Marathoners get medals. Race car drivers get trophies. You deserve something, too, and if the world won’t throw you a party, you’ll have to throw your own.
So, what’s your ritual? A day of Netflix? A slice of cake? A heroin-soaked bender? Don’t do that last one. Leave a comment with your own celebration!