Time Travel

January 1, 2019 § 58 Comments


It’s midnight in New York but I’m already twelve hours into 2019, because I’m in India. Last night I ate Chinese food and passed the leftovers through a taxi window, saying to the beggar, “It’s non-veg, OK?” Last night my taxi driver pulled over by the side of the road so he could pee against a wall. Last night I was already in bed and mostly asleep by midnight, waking only to type a little bit on a book-in-progress, because my personal superstition is that whatever I’m doing on New Year’s, that’s what my year will be like.

Last week I had almost no WiFi, power or heat, and crashed my computer moments before getting on a plane to a part of north India with no Apple Store. Mostly, it was exhilarating, and good to be off social media. It was also a pain in the ass, making it difficult to return editing projects or even work on them. In one of the few moments of cell reception, I instinctively checked my email.

Of course there was a rejection, a painful one. I’d tied a lot of hope into that submission, and the rejection was kind and thoughtful and had a bit of feedback. But for the first time I had the feeling I’ve heard other writers describe but hadn’t personally felt: I wasn’t a writer any more. This was it. I didn’t want to write anything again, ever. Sure, I’d probably edit some people’s work for money, but writing wasn’t for me, it wasn’t about me, it wasn’t a world I belonged in. I was wasting my time. Part of my brain was gently reminding me, You tell writers all the time that one rejection doesn’t mean anything, it only means your work wasn’t the right fit for that person at that time. But I cried myself to sleep as quietly as possible so I wouldn’t wake my husband, and I’m crying as I write this now, because it still sucks.

That’s the missing piece for most of us as writers. We believe that somehow, somewhere, there’s a place for us where writing doesn’t suck. Where we’re happy with our quality of work, we’re getting published enough in the places we want that rejection still stings a little but doesn’t debilitate us. Where we can see the light at the end of the tunnel, even when the tunnel’s long.

Nope.

That’s writing’s nasty little secret. That’s the horrible underbelly of great art, the Achilles’ heel of incredible physical prowess, the flip side of being good at anything.

Being good doesn’t lift you out of failure.

In fact, the better you get, the more awful failure feels, because you can’t let it go with “Oh, I wasn’t ready,” or “Yeah, that magazine is just really hard to get into.” You start to feel like you’ve paid your dues, you’ve put your time in, and when is success going to show up please, because it’s getting late?

Olympic gymnasts still break bones. Olympic hopefuls don’t get on the team because someone they beat in practice ran faster than them today. Movie stars don’t get cast because the producers aren’t sure how they’ll do in the Asian market. Writers don’t get published because their book doesn’t land on the right person’s desk at the right time. Or because they aren’t ready. Or because they suck.

All of those situations feel the same on the other end. They all feel like “I suck,” and “I suck” is a hard feeling to climb out of.

As writers, we are told over and over again, it’s hard work. Just keep doing it. We try our hardest to believe that, while still hoping it’s not true. While hoping the feeling of writing something wonderful, something we’re really proud of, will carry us through rejection and writer’s block and ennui, and sometimes it does.

The day after the Olympic trials, the gymnast who failed has two choices: Quit, or go back to the gym. It sucks to go back to push-ups and flip drills and conditioning when you know your friends are training for the big time. But it’s easier to condition than to create new choreography from the depths of heartbreak. It’s easier to embrace the routine.

Right now, what I’d really like to do is get on a plane and fly across time zones until I’m back when the rejection hadn’t happened yet. What I’d like to do is quit.

What I’m actually doing is writing a blog post in a hotel lobby, after working a little on a novel and a lot on a writing craft book. Trying to practice what I preach about showing up when it’s not fun. Putting together my writing goals for 2019: Finish another novel, finish the craft book, write another play. Say yes to enough editing to make money. Say no to enough editing to have time to write. Show up for my fellow literary citizens. Show up for Brevity readers. Show up for the writers whose work is going well and for the writers who feel like they suck. Show up to the page. Show up, show up, show up.

See you there.

According to my superstition, my 2019 will have low-key charity, unexpected public urination, and writing whether I suck or not, because I’m committed to the routine.

What will your writing year bring?

_______________________________________________________________

Allison K Williams is Brevity’s Social Media Editor, and truly sorry for being such a downer today. Why not leave your 2019 writing goals in the comments, and we’ll check back in six months?

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§ 58 Responses to Time Travel

  • Finish my novel sounds so lame. But, there it is. Life, not just writing, is all about showing up.

  • I am a beginner. I have been beginning, over and over, for decades. My plan for this year is to stick with it, to put my butt in the chair every day, and to keep writing beyond the beginning. Beyond the beginning of myself as a writer (okay, I’m a late bloomer, I get it), and beyond the painstakingly crafted beginnings of pieces I never get to the middle of, let alone the end. I will write.

  • Thank you for a perfect start to the year, Allison. “You’ve paid your dues, you’ve put your time in, and when is success going to show up please, because it’s getting late?” Oh, yeah.
    Keep on keeping on.

  • bethfinke says:

    Had to laugh at your line about getting on a plane and flying across time zones until you’d be back when the rejection hadn’t happened yet. Just the other day I had a whimsical notion to call a friend who might live in, say, India and ask them to let me know what will happen tomorrow. After all, they’d already be there! Great post, Allison. Thanks for showing up.

  • Thank you for the eloquent nudge, for your wisdom and kindness, and for a reminder that having goals is still worthwhile, even when we fail.

    Checking off a hundred rejections might be off my list for the coming year. I accomplished that in 2018, but it did not make me feel particularly happy.

    Today my husband and I will walk all the way north. (We will try to take a day off from collection trash from the beach, and we will fail.)

    This week I will to complete three tiny stories I wrote for my grandchildren, draw an illustration for them, and print the stories in a booklet for them to read this coming weekend. I’ve done this sort of thing for my students.

    For the year? I will figure that out. Maybe not all at once.

    • Allison K Williams says:

      That sounds like a beautiful project! Enjoy, and Happy New Year! And thanks for being a beach picker-upper…India needs you… ❤

  • bjsmith says:

    Good for you, sitting down and writing when it’s the last thing you want to do. Looks like quitting isn’t the answer for you.

    If I thought my new year was going to be like whatever I was doing last night, I would be clipping my fingernails and going to bed early a lot. Obviously that’s not going to get me very far. What I’ll be doing is writing more consistently toward goals and working hard to do a better job of marketing my work and myself. I’m starting soon with a reading at the local library.

    Onward.

  • clpauwels says:

    I often wonder:

    “You start to feel like you’ve paid your dues, you’ve put your time in, and when is success going to show up please, because it’s getting late?”

    But for 2019 (I hope!): “Show up. Show up. Show up.”

    One novel to finish. Essays to write. Blog to shape up and post to regularly.

    Finally (!) finding an agent would be nice. I know I have no control over that, but I’ll keep trying.

  • This is my truth, but eloquently stated. Being good at something, even if you know you are good, is irrelevant when faced with failing. Well put.

  • yorkshiremom says:

    Thank you for starting off my New Year’s Day with an intention. An intention to get back up again and sit in that chair at that desk with that screen, and write. Just that. Every day in 2019. Best wishes for us all, and especially to you, Allison, for saying it so eloquently.

  • aklotz2014 says:

    the best…what I most loved reading today.

  • mmoston says:

    “Being good doesn’t lift you out of failure.” But failing to show up guarantees it. Good for you for pressing on. May your low-key charities multiply, your public urination displays be spectacular and your writing richly rewarded.

  • Devorah says:

    Thank you Allison. Your words are a balm even if they are a downer.

    Finish my book. Keep submitting. That’s it.

  • colbyjack5000 says:

    Ok, Mom, I hear you. I have busied myself through the holiday, pushing my thesis editing out of my mind. Today I will get at least 3 essays rewritten. By next weekend I will edit the rest, and by the weekend after that, the letters. I have to hand it in by the end of the month so this will give me one extra week to re-edit anything my thesis chair thinks I should. Thank you, Allison, if I want this crazy life, I have to pay my dues too and have some accomplishments to look back on when I am down. I will have that degree in May.

  • asbraziller says:

    Beautifully said. A good reminder as I kick into writing and 2019.

  • joyofwriting2012 says:

    I’m here to say that this blog post alone has sold me on your forthcoming craft book. I will be on the lookout for it. I loved: “[I]t’s easier to condition than to create new choreography from the depths of heartbreak. It’s easier to embrace the routine.” That depth of heartbreak yielded depth of insight, for which I thank you.

    My personal writing goals are to work on poetry in forms and short personal essays. That sounds loftier than is appropriate, as I also need to just sustain a routine.

    Happy new year to all writers and editors!

  • Showing up–that’s the goal. Saying yes to my projects and no to things that take away from them. Thank you again for another honest and at the same time inspiring post. Happy new year, Allison!

  • Susan Young says:

    Go you for turning disappointment into inspiration! So glad you show up. Finish memoir first draft and however many revisions needed for a developmental edit. Wild shot – publish an essay! Happy New Year!

  • mjhowes says:

    Alison, I love this piece – much as I do all your writing, which decidedly does not suck. Thanks for reminding us all that these tides come and go.

  • readersquest says:

    Thanks so much for this! Showed up today to work on a manuscript for a contest, feeling like there’s no way I’ll get it done on time or that it will place if I do. Feeling like I should quit. Solidarity! Butts in chairs!

    2019 writing goals:
    * Enter short story collection manuscript in contest.
    * Find publisher for a collection of WWI war writing that hasn’t yet been published in collected form.
    * Publish a couple of personal essays.
    * Go back to school – add the MFA to the MA.
    * Show up for the people whose work I edit.

  • Madelaine Lock says:

    Not wanted, not warranted, not welcome, that nasty little gremlin on our shoulder telling us we suck. Thanks for inspiring me to drop-kick hell out of it. My goal is to have a fabulous editor tell me a chapter or two is salvageable out of the book that’s taken over the last two years of my life:).
    Go 2019!

  • I loved your post, I just decided to start a blog, just wanted to get the thoughts out of my head and out there in the universe, I’m curious to see what will happen, I have no expectations! Success may not be about the finished novel, it may be that your words meant something to someone and that they made a difference! Don’t ever give up!

  • Margaret says:

    Allison K Williams, you are my hero! It’s not about being published (well maybe a little bit) but honestly, the good you doing in the world by speaking your truth is immensely useful and not to be underestimated.

  • Elisabeth Crago says:

    Thank you–what a perfect piece to read as the new year gets underway. I will show up, fingers on keyboard in whatever likely or unlikely place I find myself. Having been stuck in a very private middle for a very long time, this is the year–each and every day–to step out into the weather, rain or sun. I may never get to the end or even to ready, but I will show up anyway, believing that someone does, in fact, need to hear what I have to say. Happy New Year to each and every one of us!

  • Beautiful. Thank you and I feel ya. Sucks, sucks, sucks. I don’t know: use it for your art, is what a more optimistic writer would say! My writing year: writing for me before I write for money–even if it’s just for 10 minutes upon waking.

  • I fell off from my writing for years. I’m trying to navigate my life back in that direction again. It’s hard. I felt rejected many times, but I guess I need to learn to use that. Here’s to trying 🍻

  • Kevin Kotur says:

    Needed this today—and I’m not the kind of guy who typically writes, “Needed this today” in the comments.

  • dorothyrice says:

    Oh my goodness, I felt every word. I have been feeling so much the same, questioning whether I am, or should be, or can be, a writer, and terrified that there really isn’t anything else I’d rather do so what choice do I have but to work through and past the self doubt and pain and put words on the page.

  • melinda says:

    Bravo! Your message came across, loud and clear. Beautifully written. Thank you.

  • […] YA novel is on a break from submission. Two months ago, I was devastated by a rejection from an agent who’d been very excited to read the full manuscript. She told me more or less, […]

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