Why am I doing this? As a writer, this question pops into my head all of the time, especially when I am doubting whether all the effort I've put into my work with play out. You know, like I'll win an award, sell enough books to pay my mortgage one month, grab the attention of a literary agent or better yet, a publisher. It can be a lonely existence inside my head; these thoughts swirling with no place to land. I was reminded of this just recently while waiting for a response to a query I sent out to some agents. What if they have no interest in my work? The rejections and doubt can get rather depressing. And then I was reminded of a quote from a book that I've read more than once: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig.
“Mountains should be climbed with as little effort as possible and without desire. The reality of your own nature should determine the speed. If you become restless, speed up. If you become winded, slow down. You climb the mountain in an equilibrium between restlessness and exhaustion. Then, when you’re no longer thinking ahead, each footstep isn’t just a means to an end but a unique event in itself. This leaf has jagged edges. This rock looks loose. From this place the snow is less visible, even though closer. These are things you should notice anyway. To live only for some future goal is shallow. It’s the sides of the mountain which sustain life, not the top. Here’s where things grow."
What an accurate description of the writing and publishing process. For me at least, the journey has been more fruitful than the end result, which for authors trying to make it big in the literary world means recognition in the form of sales and awards. Although I did win a literary award for my last novel: The Night is Done, I've also lost a few-quite a few; in fact so many I've lost count. But the running joke in my house is that I've has submitted to so many literary contests I've lost track. Indeed, a few weeks ago I got an email telling me I had placed Honorable Mention for my novel, Ephemeral Summer, which I'd submitted earlier to a publisher contest. I'd forgotten I sent it!
But the sides of the mountain for me are the events I attend, the people I meet, the emails I receive periodically from a reader. Just this past month I was picked up by boat to speak at the Ladies of the Lake book club on Raquette Lake, NY. We had a great time talking about the characters in my novels and the history of the region which is the setting for my trilogy. And last month I attended an awards ceremony of the Adirondack Center for Writers, a beautiful setting over looking the Adirondack high peaks. I received the Best Book of Fiction Award for The Night is Done. You really can't beat that for a thrill!
Looking back on the past few years of my writing journey I'd have to say it has been the process that has made it all worthwhile: holing myself up at the library and losing track of time while I write (they once turned the lights out on me because they didn't know I was there); the long drives to museums and libraries to sit in their archives and read about people from the past, their ghosts present in a waft of stale books. I've attended some excellent writing seminars both online and in person where I've met some interesting and engaging authors.
Best of all, I have critique partners who are supportive and helpful. Because of I've been blogging, I've connected with people from all over the world. And now, I've been invited to numerous events to speak about my books and my writing process. Collectively, the climb up my mountain includes scenery that steals your breath away and a path that at times is, arduous and challenging. But the reflective thinking while putting one step in front of the other is mind boggling. And the view from the top, well if you make it that far without losing your footing, or your courage, is spectacular.
Sheila Myers is an Associate Professor at a small college in Upstate NY. She enjoys writing, swimming in lakes, and walking in nature. Not always in that order.