“Man, I really hate it when I visit an author’s web page and they haven’t updated in months, or even years,” a friend said last week at a writer’s retreat in Maine. The others with us agreed.
I didn’t say anything. Because, well, because I was one of those people, and I’m not proud of it. But I’m here to make it right.
What took me so long? Well, I wasn’t sure I had anything worthwhile to say about being a working writer with one published book, three that are not, and two in progress.
But come to think of it, I have plenty to say.
Five years ago, I wrote a young adult book, got a magnificent agent who found me a wonderful editor, and it was published. Published! My dream come true! Even better, it was well received, making its way onto a bunch of “must read” lists, getting a Kirkus starred review, and winning a few awards. I was invited to speak at conferences and libraries and bookstores, and sit on panels and lead writing workshops. I visited a bunch of schools and met scores of bright-eyed middle school and high school kids (and teachers and librarians) who sparked in me joy and hope for the future.
Also, I signed an offer for a two-book deal.
A two-book deal! I was, to put it mildly, crazy excited. And then it fell through. I’ll spare you the details. Suffice it to say that authors are not always treated with respect in the publishing business, indignities were suffered, and my agent pulled the deal. And even though we tried, we did not find another editor in another house who wanted to publish my work.
Yeah, it sucked. And yes, I have cried and raged and railed over this a lot. I pondered—for about a nanosecond—ditching this whole writing thing and finding a job in retail. Something I could do where I didn’t have to think, or agonize, or feel stripped naked (in a literary way) and rejected on a regular basis.
But I got over it. Why? Because I had to. I had no choice.
Because writing is my ikigai.
A young friend shared that word with me recently (thank you, J), and it is perfect. Ikigai is a Japanese concept that means “a reason for being,” “the thing you live for,” or “the reason for which you wake up in the morning.”
Even though I have three completed novels without a publishing home (yet), the thing I live for is the project I’m working on right now.
When I wake up in the morning, it is with an exciting new world in mind, peopled with characters I’ve come to love who speak to me in idle moments sitting in traffic, waiting on line at the bank, and when I’m drifting off to sleep at night and have to switch on the light one more time to jot down a new idea before it darts away.
Every book I work on is, in my heart, a best seller, and whether that ever proves to be true or not, I adore believing it. Exploring and attempting to harness ideas and stories and imagination is exciting. It is magic.
To quote Stephen King, “Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid or making friends. Writing is magic, as much as the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So drink.”
For the record, I feel in my bones that I’ll be published again. Maybe soon. (Book #4 is pretty awesome, just so you know.) But even if another publishing contract never comes across my desk again, I’ll be okay. Because writing is water to my soul, it gives me a reason to wake up in the morning. And even on days when the words aren’t flowing and I only get a sip, I am still drinking magic.