A few years ago at one of those literary festivals where admiring throngs line up to get autographs from the Very Famous, a couple of us throngless, not-very-famous authors got into a conversation. I noted how some people publish so much, they seem to compete with themselves.
A friend’s comment surprised me. She said, “You don’t know how lucky you are.”
I hardly felt lucky. I couldn’t afford to quit my day job and write full time. I spent more hours writing on student papers than writing my own fiction, and I had to devote some of my creative time to scholarly essays.
Besides that, I had increasing difficulty getting manuscripts published because my stuff wasn’t commercial enough. By then, I’d collected so many glowing rejections, I could get the Nobel Prize in Unpublished Literature.
“Why am I so lucky, exactly?” I asked my friend.
I thought she might say it’s really fun to teach children’s and adolescent literature to college students (which it is), or that it’s flippin’ awesome to get paid for thinking deeply about your favorite books and ideas (definitely true), or that nothing helps a writer understand craft better than teaching creative writing workshops (possibly true).
No. She said, “You have health insurance. You know you can pay your mortgage every month. You don’t sit down to write every day knowing that you must sell your work. You can do whatever projects you want. If they don’t get published, at least you pleased yourself. Some of us have to keep producing whatever books we can that will keep the advances coming.”
“Oh…,” I said. “Thanks!”
Suddenly I had a new perspective on my life as a teaching writer.
The Hole in the Wall (Milkweed, 2010)(excerpt) may never have been published if I had to depend on selling it to buy health insurance.
I began jotting the early ideas in graduate school, and for twenty years, I have returned to the story off and on, always getting back to it between other projects because I cared about my characters and themes too much to let them go.
As I worked with editor Ben Barnhart on several more revisions, I didn’t realize that Milkweed had The Hole in the Wall in mind for their prize—they only told me after the final draft. What a fabulous reward at the end of all that writing and waiting!
Nowadays I remind myself how lucky I am whenever I get frustrated about not having enough time to write and keep up with the social networks…or when I get another rejection.
I don’t write just for myself; I do want to reach readers. Yet in those precious hours devoted to writing, it is indeed a gift to be able to work on stories just because I believe in them.
Visit Lisa’s web page to read “10 Tips on Making Time to Write When You Have Another Career.” Other class sessions can be found at http://lisarowefraustino.com/?page_id=249
“Seb Daniels is growing up in a despoiled landscape going haywire in a specifically twenty-first-century way. Lisa Rowe Fraustino is masterful in this tale of surreal survival.”
—Richard Peck, Newbery Medal-winning author of A Year Down Yonder, on The Hole in the Wall