Thursday, December 6, 2012

The question new writers hate

Being an unpublished writer is kind of like being a high school senior in that there is one dreaded question everyone asks you. You feel bad about hating this question, because most everyone who asks it means well and is genuinely interested in your answer.

When you're seventeen and primarily focused on surviving exams and clearing up your skin before the prom, everyone wants to know:

Where are you going to college?

This question reminds you that you have a stack of applications to fill out and you'd rather just enjoy your virgin eggnog right now. Or that you've applied and you're still waiting to hear back, and the suspense is killing you enough as it is. Maybe you've received a string of acceptances (lucky you), and you're agonizing over a decision that will affect the rest of your life, no pressure, by the way. Maybe you didn't get in, and you haven't figured out how to say this. Maybe you got in, but you don't know where the tuition money will come from.

And sometimes, you loathe this question simply because you get it so much that you have prepared a stump speech, and holy crap you just discovered the Harry Potter books and you love them, can't you just talk about that (or anything else) for a change?

When you're an unpublished writer and people who know you know this, they ask:

How is the book coming?

Until you get to the point where you get an agent or a publisher, the answer is usually some variant of "still critiquing/editing/revising/rewriting and resubmitting." That makes it sound like you really haven't been doing anything. And if you drill into specifics ("I wrote 3,000 words yesterday!" or "I completely rewrote the first two chapters!" or "I am in the process of switching to a first-person POV."), it's going to get boring unless your interlocutor has read your book.

But what really makes the question awful isn't that it's a small talk dead end, it's that it reminds you of your lack of measurable progress. It reminds you that you've been churning away since the question was first asked, and you still don't have a shiny New York agent or publishing contract to show for it. It reminds you that you may continue this way for years without getting any closer to achieving those things.

As an unpublished writer, I do solemnly swear that once I get an agent and/or a publisher, everyone I know will know. You will not have to ask me. I will volunteer this information shamelessly and enthusiastically, in the way that mothers-to-be reveal that they are pregnant and have already painted the nursery in Behr Pumpkin Butter. 

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