I used to think there was a Great Divide, a deep chasm, between published and unpublished writers, with the huddled mass of unpublished writers forcibly held back on one side of it, like citizens of the former East Berlin. We stare at the other side, all sunshine and rainbows and professional authors sipping cosmopolitans at publisher cocktails, carelessly gamboling on a lush carpet of publishing contracts. And we wonder what’s wrong with us, damn it, why are we still on this side, and when oh when would we finally be let out from this languishing hell of the unpublished?
When you wish for a publishing contract with every set of birthday candles you blow out, and birthdays come one after the next without that wish coming true, the label of “unpublished” begins to chafe, and chafe badly. I stopped telling people that I wrote. And I learned, when people who already knew about my literary aspirations asked that dreaded question—“So did you publish your book yet?”—to shrug as if my failure to attract a publisher mattered no more to me than my inability to grow the world’s heftiest tomato.
Then, one fine day, The Call came. I was toasted, garlanded, and feted. People wanted to ask me questions. They wanted to hear my opinions. I was now a Published Author. I’d leaped the Great Divide at last.
Or did I?
The day I had my first offer, I was so proud of myself. And what was I proud of? Only one thing, my persistence.
Why is that remarkable? Isn’t everyone proud of their persistence? Well, no. I’d been no admirer of persistence. In fact I thought persistence a crock of bleep. Only those who failed had to persist. Why did I want to be among those who failed?
Indeed, wise readers, forgive me for having been so shallow and blind. I’ve been among the most inspiring collection of human beings—Those Who Strive—and saw only what they, what we, as a group, did not yet achieve.
There is no Great Divide. The never had been. It was a construct of my mind, a silly yet dangerous concept. Because of it, I regard my own struggle with scorn, rather than the respect it deserved. I saw only failure, when I was but a learner making the necessary mistakes.
The true watershed events in my quest for publication happened not on the day I got bought, but on the day I first sat down to write the story in my head, on every day that I filed away rejections and did not quit, and on the day when I finally realized that rejections are meant to be learned from, not just filed away. The publishing contract is but a delayed recognition, the slapping on of an inspection sticker after the iron ore has already been forged into steel.
May I always be a member of Those Who Strive.
Next Tuesday, we interrupt our regularly scheduled program to bring you The Life and Times of Sherry Thomas, an author interview