On Sunday night, a few friends and I headed to the movies to see Star Trek and ended up with an hour to kill since the eight o’clock was sold out. The Barnes and Noble next store to the multiplex on Webster must make a killing, since it seemed to be filled with like-minded people, drowning in the magazine rack until the next showing of their movie.
I sat down on the floor at my friends’ feet and flipped through one of those trade magazines that you only see at Barnes and Noble. In it was a little article for New Novelists, from the perspective of some very well-meaning, veteran publishing agents. It was actually pretty enlightening. And by enlightening, I mean soul-crushing. To paraphrase- “Only about a hundred writers in America actually make a living off of fiction writing.”
100. I want you to really think about that for a second, really think about 100 people out of the MILLIONS OF PEOPLE IN OUR COUNTRY while I recover from my second panic attack in three days.
I don’t really consider myself a naive person. When a well-meaning relative remarked on my finishing my first novel a few months back and casually asked me when it was being published and when they would see it in stores, I laughed. “It doesn’t really work like that,” I told her. “It’s not really that easy. I wish it were.” See how not naive I am? I meant it too. I have no delusions of grandeur about it. I KNOW that my office wall is going to be filled with rejection letters, that’s how the game is played. Sure, it would be nice to fall on a banister ala Fanny Brice, moaning, “It was too easy. I haven’t suffered enough.” But that’s unlikely. Nice but unlikely.
But 100? That’s… sort of devastating. That brings writing-for-a-living into a “winning the lottery” kind of category and while I was expecting it would be tough and possibly never happen, I didn’t realize just how highly stacked those odds are against me.
After I read the article, I swallowed a lump in my throat the size of a watermelon, tucked the magazine back on the shelf and went to see the movie, not mentioning to my friends the soul-crushing that just happened on the floor of a mega bookstore. Star Trek was a good diversion. I hope the inevitable forty-eight sequels they have planned are just as good because I will probably need to be diverted by every single one of them.
The next morning, I crawled out of bed and I’m not being dramatic about the word “crawl.” My soccer game on Sunday did something to my ankles that should probably be illegal in the state of Illinois. I’ve been limping ever since and yesterday was by far the worst. I grabbed Charlie’s leash and limped down the stairs, cursing my dog’s need to go to the bathroom when I could be on Ebay purchasing a used wheelchair, like every other out-of-shape person who suddenly thinks they’re David Beckham.
I stepped out on the sidewalk and limped down the first block. By the fifth or sixth, the throbbing started to subside. I caught a glimpse of myself in a store window and tried to straighten up, tried to ease the pathetic limping before the cast of Les Mis appeared to do a number around me.
Have you ever tried to stop limping when you need to limp? You basically have to reteach yourself how to walk. Heel to toe, heel to toe, more pressure, more pressure, more knee, less knee, heel to toe, heel to toe, that’s the way. The limp was less noticeable as I finally made it home. I’d done the whole morning route at least. At least I’d finished it. At least I can still walk.
So now here I sit. I’m behind on my editing quota and because I took the weekend off, I now have about 12 chapters to review today. Last night I sat down to work and I was seized with an overwhelming Why bother? I’m not happy to admit that it was strong enough to propel me back over to the couch and my rented Alias Season 3-Disc 5 DVD. 100, I kept muttering to myself. Why bother?
Yet here I am. It’s a new day. This morning I fell into step behind my dog, the pain there but manageable. I walked easily, the instructions in my head silenced. They’ve turned instead to the keyboard in front of me, hands poised over it, heart in my throat, doubt, doubt everywhere.
Heel to toe, heel to toe. What else can I do?