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On one hand . . .

The new year is breathing heavily over my shoulder, and I am looking out at a clear and cloudless sky with most of a moon floating serenely through it and wondering what this strange new year 2010 will bring to me.  2010!  It sounds like science fiction.  Maybe making resolutions (or goals) is a way of trying to harness the strangeness of a new year, bringing it in some mysterious way under control.

So what is the difference between resolutions and goals, anyway?

I guess to me the big difference is that a resolution is a goal that has to do with my personal behavior:  keep the house tidier, be more punctual, keep the budget more firmly in mind, that sort of thing.  A goal is a resolution that has to do with what I do, what might be loosely called my career:  being more businesslike about submissions, finishing the abandoned NaNo book, etc. etc. etc.

So what I’m thinking about now is a resolution.  For better or worse, I seem to be a writer.  I have been writing since I learned how to put words down on paper.  For what seemed like years and years, I carefully hand printed my stories so that it would look more like typewriting.  For what was in actuality about fifteen years, I sublimated my passion for expressing myself verbally by throwing myself into the business of publishing:  I worked for the University of California Press in Berkeley, for Doubleday in New York, and for Aldus Books in London.  Oh, I wrote some, but it was incidental:  I wrote letters, mainly to my family in the US while I was living in England for those ten years, but also captions for the heavily illustrated volumes I was producing:  that paid for adopting our daughter from Thailand.

When we came back to the States, the insistent urge to write grew stronger, and that turned into my nonfiction phase:  eight published books — published, might I say, in the much easier market of the 80s and early 90s, when every book accepted for publication wasn’t expected to be a best seller.  But by then the writing bug had sunk its teeth (or claws, or proboscis or whatever it is that the writing bug has) deep into me, and I’m hankering to be published again — this time to have it be fiction.

Let me say plainly that this is a hell of a time to decide to do that.   The world of publishing is reeling, crippled by its emphasis on blockbusters, puzzled and confused by the new world of electronic publishing, chopped behind the knees by the worldwide slowdown with the epidemic of less money available for the average (and many nonaverage) consumers.  We romance writers (yay, escapist fiction!) are probably doing better than other genres, but the road is rocky and the crop of contracts in the meadows alongside the road a whole lot thinner than it used to be.  Most of the time it feels a lot like banging your head against a wall.

So why in the world do we do it?

That’s my resolution.   In this strange new year, 2010, I will try my best to keep remembering the joy of it.  I promise I will remind myself during the bleak moments of the splendid ones when the words are pouring out on the page — remember that Virginia Woolf wrote that she felt she was stumbling along after them? — and when you give them to somebody to read and you can see from the expression on his or her face that you’ve done it, you’ve brought alive the emotion you were feeling and worded it so that somebody else can feel it?  I resolve I will do my best to remember when I read a passage that I wrote — me, myself! — that I can’t exactly remember thinking, but there it is on the page and it’s absolutely right.  I will remember the satisfaction of writing “The End” at the end — even when I know all the drudgery of revision is still ahead of me.

I will remember the people I’ve created.  It’s so hard to move away from them, to turn the last page over and know it is time to move on to new people, and still feel the tug from the ones I know so well now.  Then gradually you grow into the new ones until they, too, have to be put gently aside — maybe I should be writing series!

But most of all, I will try to keep the memory of the joy alive in the dreary stages when you have to cut pieces that feel like chunks of your arm muscles, when a character you’ve fallen in love with has muscled his/her way too deep into the plot and has to be excised to keep the line clear and exciting for a reader, when a description you’ve labored over (with love) suddenly is only too plainly purple prose and you sit there staring at it, depressed.

Not getting overcome by the painful parts will be my resolution for this January 1st.  I will remember the pure love of writing to lift me when it all seems too hard.  When I decide I’m crazy to keep thumping my head against the wall.  When I am tired and cross and discouraged.  When a rejection, howsoever gentle and encouraging, is simply one rejection too many.

I will remember the joy.  What will you remember?

11 Responses

  1. As I mentioned, I don’t resolutions, but Beppie *this* is a resolution I could get behind!

    I love this idea.

  2. I like your attitude, Beppie! So appropriate for starting out a new year.

    I’m not sure about what to do about my goals for this year. I can’t seem to get any more concrete than selling another book and losing some weight. I’d like an agent. I don’t know. I really need to give some more thought to what i need to shoot for this upcoming year.

    I guess I should keep in mind all the things you wrote – about embracing the joy of writing. I do love to write, but some days, it’s just hard to see it as joy.

    Thanks for this post.

  3. Bless you, Keri and Liz, for understanding what I’m talking about! I haven’t written a thing for the last three weeks or more — first of all, busy straightening out all the mess about our mail being stolen and the Amex card misused (big time) and then Christmas, which our family celebrates with bells and whistles and encrusted tradition, and I was trying to think what I missed so much.

    It’s the joy. That’s it.

  4. Excellent advice! I’ve learned during the last year it’s best to take one day at a time and focus on why you like writing. It seems in each “level” or “phase” of the writing life, there are always different things that steal our joy. I came up against that a few weeks ago with stagnant sales and then a crappy review.

    I have to remind myself to put it all behind me.

    Best wishes to you in the new year!

  5. Yup, been revisiting the old writing bug and why do I do it myself for a while. Obviously, as I am not published, I am not doing it for the money. And there are days when I question the investment of time, energy and money into pursuing this crazy dream when the publishing world is shaky. But I didn’t know all of the problems facing the publishing industry when I started writing my first novel. And I decided the best way to recapture that sweet milk of innocence was to refresh my writing and go in an uncharted direction.

    Not just toiling away and trying to get published. But just playing with world building and plot ideas and series ideas and a whole new genre just for the pure intellectual and emotional high it gives me.

    And the other reason to keep writing? All my crazy shipmates on this boat to shores unknown.

  6. Beppie, you wrote it so well. Remember the Joy. That will be my resolution for the new year too, only not just my writing. My family, my friends, my RWA chapters and my writing. I will remember the joy of every day life.

  7. Sandra, I’m sure you’re absolutely right — that when I eventually persuade somebody that I’m publishable, there will be a whole other collection of setbacks and frustrations to aggravate me. I just hope I’ll be able to keep my fingernails dug into the pleasure of writing itself so I can keep reminding myself. Anyhow, hands across the unpublished/published gulf. We’re all sisters under the skin.

    Christine, oh yes, oh yes, oh yes. Why hadn’t I remembered that? The crazy shipmates are very definitely the second best part. It’s all of you that make me laugh when I’m down, who encourage me when I’ve just had a big fat R, the ones who cry on my shoulder when they’re the ones floundering around in the abyss. What would I do without you?

    Jill, thank you, thank you. I wanted to say it well because it’s so important to me. Otherwise, what in the world am I doing all these days? But then I remember Our Town and Emily’s return to her home after her death, pleading with her mother to LOOK at her, to stop for a moment and LOOK. That haunted me while my children were growing up — I remember deciding again and again to grab one moment and hold it so that I would have it to keep. And you know what? I’ve still got those moments, treasured away where I can pull them out and remember. The wretched children, of course, sailed right past them and grew up anyway. They’re working on bringing me up at this point, pointing out my deficiencies with loving determination and always, always catching me when I have mayonnaise or ketchup or whipped cream on my chin.

  8. My Dear Beppie,

    What a great resolution. Here are the ones I want to add to yours, 1. Quit spending so much time on e-mail and commenting at blogs. Smile. 2. Stop promoting so much. 3. Write! Write! Write!

  9. Good luck with your resolution. Mine is similar to remembering the joy. I need to stop dwelling on the negative when things don’t go well.

  10. Beppie, what a wonderfully inspiring post.

    I will try to keep all your comments in mind as I trudge through edits for the next several weeks!!

  11. Sandy — glad you hadn’t made your resolution about not commenting on blogs before you got to mine! Yeah, it’s a lot easier to talk about writing than it is to actually write, isn’t it? At the end of this weekend, I’m going to get really firm with myself and get back to a writing schedule.

    Jane, I know exactly what you mean. Isn’t it odd how much easier it is to believe the bad stuff than to remember the good stuff and the successes? It’s as if once they happen they don’t count — you can only think about what you haven’t done yet.

    Tracey, imagine me at your left shoulder reminding you what a really good writer you are!

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