The Agony and the Ecstasy


Day 3, Summer Writers Workshop:  first day of class time with our mentors.  There was a great deal of discussion about conflict, theme, and plot.  I feel increasingly cold and clammy when thinking about my own work and how ineffectual it might be with regard to those essential elements.  Maybe it’s not as bad as I fear, I say, trying to remember to breathe.  Since we’re not allowed to make any changes, there’s nothing for me to do but wait until D-Day (Wednesday).

The latter half of the morning was spent critiquing a classmate’s submission.  The one male in our group, universally considered a slacker who is always late and unprepared, launched into an articulate and well-contemplated speech on everything from theme to historical accuracy.  The rest of us sat somewhat stunned.  I roused myself long enough to think, “This guy is gonna rip my piece to shreds.”

Something that stuck with me from Alistair’s lecture: “Style is the clothing of thought.”  I love that.  Another one (by Ezra Pound):  “Only emotion endures.”

I leave the classroom for the cafeteria only seconds away from a complete panic attack.

Lunch, provided by the school, is a much-needed respite; however, they serve carb-heavy, cream-based meals with a few lettuce leaves thrown in for good measure.  After lunch, we are expected to sit through lectures by other authors on subjects such as “The Author as Teacher,” and “The Author and Agent.”  Valuable subjects, but after eating a plateful of fettucine alfredo I can barely keep my eyes open.

I’d best get to the title of this post:  The Agony in writing is everything from the physical act of writing – an author slices open his or her own guts, putting very personal things onto the page – to shopping same intensely personal work around to agent after agent or publisher after publisher only to be told “No, thanks” repeatedly.  A bit humbling, to say the least.

Worse still, even when told “Yes, please!” years can pass before a book hits the shelves.

Oddly, none of this really discourages me although it does make me wonder how lucid I might be by the time anything is published.  I could be senile and on my second hip replacement by the time I get published!

Then, there are brief moments of Ecstasy:  the phone call from an agent or publisher saying the work is going to be published.  One author said today this moment was his first and only moment of pure joy – that first “yes.”  Why?  Because in the writing world, your first yes might be your last.  Or, there could be a decade in between the yes’s.  It’s a fickle, difficult, and often heartbreaking business.

Luck plays a tremendous role and this same author also said that tenacity is the real key to success.  He sort of mumbled away from the microphone, “Sometimes more than talent.”  Ah-hah.  Yes, I’d heard that before.

So, I must have hope.  I have to hang in there.  Even if my classmates shred my submission, I will find the inner strength to embrace what they have to say and find a way to make the piece better as a result.  No matter what.  I haven’t come all this way, fought so hard, for nothing.

Today, one woman appeared at lunch vibrating with a combination of joy and terror.  One of the editors from the previous day’s session had asked to see her complete manuscript.  Suddenly, she stood apart from the rest of us; we could only watch with unabashed envy as she walked, trembling, into the light.


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