I was WAY obsessed.
Driven is not a strong enough word. Maybe more like desperate. My desire to be published trumped everything in my life, and thus everything got out of whack. I didn't really know it at the time, but I put all my feelings of self-worth into publishing. I put all my energy into it, at the detriment of other things. Sure, I would say that I was fine if I never got published, and sometimes I even convinced myself to believe it. I wanted to believe it, because I knew that's how sane people should feel and I wanted to be sane very much.
Can we say denial? Inside, it felt like I would never, ever be happy if I didn't sell a book. If I couldn't succeed at this, then I would be settling. If I wasn't a writer, any other path would be meaningless.
Talk about dramatic.
Honestly? Selling a book didn't make me happy. Oh, it did for a second, but then I was right back to my destructive, self-loathing ways. Except this time it was obvious that it was MY problem, because I'd gotten what I wanted and I still wasn't happy. In fact, I was kind of miserable, and I felt horrible for being miserable, and I wanted to know WHY I was so miserable.
I wish I could tell you I had all the answers, but I'm still figuring it out. A big part, I think, was the hope I'd lost. I'd become a pretty negative person, and I'm still working on grasping that hope again.
I think another big part of the misery came in Watching The Clock. I wanted things to happen NOW, or at least fast. I had no concept of just how slow publishing is—and that it's actually a good thing. More and more I'm learning that time improves a story. You see things. You grow. The story grows. But I wanted my books out NOW. I didn't understand that Too Early can cause far more regrets than waiting.
I now shudder at the thought of TRANSPARENT's earliest drafts, before the rewrite. At the time, I honestly thought that was how the story should go. I believed it should be published the way it was. It wasn't until maybe the 8th draft that I realized a thread I was missing—a thread that ultimately made the book what it is today. If I hadn't had that time to think and reflect on what I really wanted my novel to be, I know it wouldn't have been as strong as it is now.
But at the time I didn't have that perspective. I just wanted to get there. It wasn't so much about making the book amazing—it was about making it good enough as fast as I could so someone would just BUY IT already. That, I think, ultimately had the opposite effect: it slowed me down.
I...was putting publishing before the book.
That sounds kind of weird, but I hope it makes sense. In a lot of ways, I stopped caring about writing. You could even say I hated it, because it was this thing I couldn't seem to master, and my apparent incompetence was in the way of getting The Deal. Ha, that sounds so stupid, but it feels true. I was so turned around that writing became the enemy.
Oh, 2010, I'm so glad you are behind me.
Things started to turn around for me when I put stuff back in the right priority boxes, and when I began to focus again on The Writing and not so much on The Publishing. When it wasn't so much about how fast I could write but instead about how well. When I told the stories I wanted to tell, regardless of how marketable they'd be. Basically, I started acting like an unagented, unpublished writer again.
And that's really the secret to this whole game. It always comes back to the writing. Yeah, I have an agent. Yeah, I have a book deal. But that doesn't mean my next novel will sell. It doesn't really guarantee anything. When I write, I have to write like I always have—as if I've got nothing to lose, as if no one's looking over my shoulder, as if it's all just for fun and yeah it'd be cool if something came of it but that's not really why I write.
If you can, try not to lose sight of that. It's not fun. Enjoy telling your story, exploring it, making it better. Take your time. Create, don't manufacture. Forget about the race and do what you do. Everything else has a way of working out whether you stress about it or not.
(And having written this on and off over the course of three hours, I really hope it's coherent. If not, oh well.)