My birthday was this past week. I had dinner with family, and someone asked me if I’ve been making good progress on my life goals.
I thought about it. “No, not really.”
One of my goals I was thinking about was writing. To be fair to myself, this past year I drafted one novel, edited another, shopped a third to agents, and published a couple of poems.
But sometimes it doesn’t feel like anything’s happening. I sent out another batch of agent queries this weekend, and while updating my spreadsheet, I realized I’ve been sending out this book for a year now. And I started writing this book four years ago. I can’t remember how many times I’ve used the anecdote about Kathryn Stockett and her sixty rejections when friends ask me how my writing is going.
I also recently got beta-reader feedback on the novel I finished editing. And while readers liked the book and there were plenty of lovely comments, there’s also a lot of work to be done when I get around to the third draft. I first had the idea for this book twelve years ago, and I started writing it five years ago. Drafting those first pages feels like a long time ago.
None of this should surprise me. I remember reading somewhere—probably in a book on writing—that no other entertainment industry moves slower than book publishing except for film. And I work at a publishing house, so I see firsthand the many processes and people a book manuscript must go through to reach publication, never mind the many normal, human delays and hiccups. (And, yes, I’ve been that editor who’s left a query from a hopeful author unanswered in my inbox for three months because I’ve been busy with this, that, and the other thing.)
And yet I want things to be unreasonably fast and smooth with my books. I’ve been going through a period of generalized envy in my life, so it’s a mental loop I catch myself playing a lot right now. They’re getting their book published and garnering excellent reviews. Their life looks so much more fun and ’grammable than mine. They have/do/are [whatever it is I think I need to feel satisfied with my life].
When I start feeling this way, what this often means is that I need to start reading Pema Chödrön again. Or at least take a deep breath and remember to have more patience with myself and the world. And remember that it isn’t merely the hoped-for result of writing that’s important but also the story, characters, and craft itself. At any rate, getting too hung up on how people respond to my writing—even agents and editors—and using that as a barometer for whether I can feel “successful” or am “meeting my life goals” is an awful lot of pressure—both for me and for them.
My goal-oriented self wants to put a disclaimer here that, of course, this doesn’t mean that goals aren’t important and that I shouldn’t work hard for them. But I think these statements can coexist peacefully—to have big dreams and pursue them, and to be patient and content with what actually is.