A month and a half ago, I wrote this entry, about how this time of the year usually means the annual writing retreat becomes quite a focus for me.
At the time of that last entry, I wasn’t sure if a retreat would happen this year. But…the friend I go to East Texas with each year for the retreat is vaccinated and fully immune. I’m now fully immune, too.
And so…our cabin is booked — Sunday we head to East Texas for a few days.
That Floating Feeling
I’ve felt like I’ve been floating when it comes to writing, lately.
I’ve reached the end of submitting query letters for the current novel.
There are a handful of queries still out there, but they are all nearing a point where it seems likely I’ll not hear back about them. And while there are more agents out there, it’s not about submitting queries to them all. (It’s better to have no agent at all than one who isn’t right for you.) And because what I’m working on right now is a series (and I don’t want to stop and chase the next [possibly] commercially viable story), it means I’m coming to an end of submitting writing entirely. (Many writers stop a series at this point because sure, you can try submitting the second book in a series, but it’s going to be met with, “What is wrong with the first book that it didn’t sell?” I’d never fault someone for dropping a series, but…I want to finish this story more than possibly sell a different book.)
It’s a weird place to be because I’ve spent my entire adulthood working toward trying to sell books.
The Usual Response
With each new big project I’ve finished, requests for partial and full manuscripts have been somewhat common, but it always comes back to, “You are a strong writer. This is a great and ambitious project, but…I don’t know how I’d market it. I have to pass. All the best.”
And people who mean well tell me, “Just don’t add fantastic elements to an otherwise literary story. It’s clear you had their interest up to the point truly magical stuff happens in this book. (Hell, I’m still trying to figure out the gravity-controlling English bulldog in the last thing you did before this one…)”
And those people are likely correct if the goal is to sell more than to write the books I most want to write.
You Must Write It
Perhaps the most commonly shared Toni Morrison quote about writing is this one:
If you find a book you really want to read but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.
A great quote, but this can be a trap for a writer.
On one hand, you’re told to write the book you must write, but…you’re also told to write what people want. (If you suspect adding fantastic elements to an otherwise literary story might scare away agents and publishers, don’t do that!)
So you’re left with a bit of a dilemma: be true to a creative vision, or be true to a market.
(Obviously, this is generalizing — there are many successful literary novels full of fantastic elements. Even some debut authors have had luck with the combination. But it might not be the most advisable thing to write a 115K word story about a girl born in a circus in the 1920s and her struggles to become a successful magician throughout the 30s and 40s…with two more books to follow, taking readers through the 40s and 50s. Clearly, a single 85K – 90K word novel would be better, and maybe tone back the actual magic vs. the protagonist’s struggle to not use it in her bid to follow in her family’s footsteps as a performing illusionist. Probably best to remove the real magic entirely.)
[But that was the book I really wanted to read, that hadn’t been written yet. So…I wrote it.]
I don’t know what happens next. I mean, sure…I’ll keep working on the current big story, and I will continue writing, recording, and releasing free short stories on Not About Lumberjacks. But there was always a certain hope that novels would maybe not pay the bills, but perhaps become a supplemental-enough thing to pay some of them.
(And I know the next suggestion is to self-publish, but…self-published literary novels are not known for doing well, and to sink money into an editor that would likely not recoup spending…well, it’s almost easier to just record the novel myself and release it on Not About Lumberjacks with it’s own feed.)
Back to East Texas
So the timing of the writing retreat restart after the pandemic year is perfect!
Crammed in a car there and back with the person who often knows what I want from my writing even more than I do. Fireside chats at night, and thinking while hiking around Daingerfield State Park. (Hell, maybe finally even canoeing out there!) Blasts of focused writing across from each other at a table…and more talk about what hopes we have for the next year in writing and work.
No matter what happens with the words I put down — whether something finally breaks through or I’m that guy who never sells a thing — I know in all the years to come that East Texas will always be there each spring…
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Image: Andrew Spencer.