I suppose I also should not have been surprised by what came next.
"This is so cool!" he said excitedly, "I'm going to write a book! I'm just a kid, and I'm going to be published!"
"What?" I asked. "What did you say?"
The boy had yet to write a word, and he was talking about publication. Not only that, he was talking about publication with the kind of gusty relish and naked desire he generally reserves for trips to Chuck E. Cheese. And did I mention: he had yet to write a word?
"Max," I said, as calmly as I could. "You should not be thinking about publication right now. You should be thinking about your story! I don't want to hear another word about publication until you have written it all down. You understand me?"
He nodded solemnly, quick to react to the tone of my voice. Then he did a series of things that made me proud. He sharpened his favorite pencil. He found his favorite, hard-backed journal. He climbed up into his top bunk and, while I read a story to his younger brother, began to work. He asked me how to spell "series." He asked me how to spell "field." He asked me how to spell "Girardi," the last name of the Yankee's manager. (It was clearly time for his first dictionary.)
After a good fifteen minutes of concentrated labor, he sat bolt upright in bed. "I finished!" he pronounced.
"Read it to us!" I said, and my little guy snuggled up closer to me as Max relayed his masterpiece. A story called "The Kids," it went something like this (I don't want to plagarize, so he won't lose first serial rights): a Little League baseball team attends a world series game, Yankees versus Mets. By the fifth inning all the Yankees are injured (how this happened was not explained), and the Yankees manager, Joe Girardi, is forced to call on "the kids" to take the field. The kids beat the Mets. The end.
"Wow!" I said. "That is a great first draft!"
"So do you think I can get it published?" he asked me.
"Max! You are writing this because you have a great idea. An idea that is so fun and interesting to you that you just have to write it down, and have fun while you do it. Right?"
"Yeah," he said. "Aren't I also writing it so other people will read it, though?" he asked.
He had me there.
And now, as I am slogging through a difficult moment in writing my novel (the middle), wondering if it's any good, I find myself thinking of this conversation again. I need to focus entirely on my story, I know it. But I am having trouble getting the "will anyone ever read this?" and "will it ever get published?" demons out of my head.
As to the first question, one of the things I'm most excited about with the launch of She Writes Press is the fact that, for the first time as an author, I have a lot more control over the "will this ever get published?" question. I don't have to go around begging marketing departments at big publishing houses to bet on me and my book--and then hand over most of the potential upside in the process. But the whole idea of She Writes Press is that we will only publish books that meet a high editorial standard. So while I might feel less anxiety about finding myself with a publishable book that nobody will publish...I still have to make it publishable. I still have to make it good. Which right now is making me very anxious indeed.
And then there's the second question--the question, to my mind, that is really at the heart of the matter. Even if I write a good, "publishable" book...will anyone want to read it? How will I make it sell? If I can't, will I have failed? Aren't I writing it, as Max said, so other people will read it? Or am I writing it, as I exhorted him, because I have a story I want to tell, and even if it only gets read by family and friends it's ok, because it was always about telling a story, not about selling one?
While I'm writing, if I think too much about selling and not telling, will my book suffer? Will the story (and my writing) get worse?
Part of me is sure the answer is yes. Part of me knows that to think about the public life of the book before I have gotten a third of the way through the private, solitary life of its creation is bad for my process, my creativity, and even my confidence. It's dangerous to think too much about publishing while writing. The best books, I believe, the books I love the most, came into being because their authors simply had to write them, not because they were looking for a book deal.
Part of me, however, can't stop putting the cart before the horse. Part of me feels enormously impatient, in a hurry to get through a draft, and through the inevitable multiple rounds of revision--god writing a book takes a long time!--because I do have hopes this book will sell, and I can't help indulging in that fantasy and even feeling driven by it.
Am I alone in struggling with this balance? Have others here done the same? Please share your experiences. I need to hear from other writers on this one, asap!
...oh and in case you are wondering, there will be more on Max's adventures in writing in a post to come...