I signed a contact with a publisher to publish my first novel.
I’m thrilled, is what people say. I am thrilled.
But on a deeper and much wider level, I remain pessimistic.
As an actor, when I’m in a commercial or movie or TV show, during the first part of the shoot I expect to be fired and replaced, once they realize they’ve made a mistake. (It happens. Just ask Eric Stoltz.)
It’s only after the production reaches a halfway point that I start to relax and believe I won’t be fired.
Some of it is “stage fright,” which affects every performer. Even Frank Sinatra.
“The first four or five seconds, I tremble every time I take the step and I walk out of the wing onto the stage,” Sinatra said, “because I keep thinking to myself, ‘I wonder if it will be there.’” This feeling haunted him since the early days of his career.
Such is the case with my debut novel– will it be there?
My favorite living writer, Walter Mosley, told me that “good writing is rewriting.” He said he revises and edits a manuscript until there’s nothing left to change, and then he’s done. He probably averages two novels a year.
I’ve been working on my first novel for more than 22 years.
I have the humility to know my work is seldom as good as I would like it to be.
Ira Glass, host of NPR’s “This American Life,” explains the problem this way:
Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, and I really wish somebody had told this to me.
All of us who do creative work– we get into it because we have good taste. But it’s like there’s this gap. For the first couple years that you’re making stuff, what you’re making isn’t so good. It’s not that great. It’s trying to be good, it has ambition to be good, but it’s not quite that good.
But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, your taste is still killer. And your taste is good enough that you can tell that what you’re making is kind of a disappointment to you. You know what I mean? A lot of people never get past that phase. A lot of people at that point- they quit.
It didn’t have the special thing we wanted it to have.
The thing I would say to you is: everybody goes through that.
And for you to go through it, if you’re going through that right now, if you’re just getting out of that phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important possible thing you can do, is do a lot of work. Do a huge volume of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week or every month you know you’re going to finish one story.
Because it is only by going through a volume of work that you’re actually going to catch up and close that gap. And the work you’re making will be as good as your ambitions.
In my case, I took longer to figure out how to do this than anybody I’ve ever met. It takes awhile. It’s gonna take you a while. It’s normal to take a while. You just have to fight your way through that.
A very small company, Immortal Works has agreed to spend money producing a book I started writing 23 years ago, a creative journey that rivals Ira’s.
I’ve been paid to write since college. I am a professional. But I’ve never published fiction before.
I recognize exactly the process he describes. But in addition to writing professionally, I’ve continually edited the same manuscript, Faith, Hope, and Baseball: A Novel.
I’ve worked , as Ira Glass said, on work that I knew fell short.
And now I’m writing interesting, creative work. Work that will be published.
I have five more novels in various stages of creation. I will publish all of them.
To follow along with my creative work, like my page on Facebook