Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Running Behind?

Probably no one feels as "behind" as the writer struggling to get a second novel written and published. Certainly that was true for me; my wrestle with the first and the ongoing business of the third have lacked the dreadful under-the-gun feeling I had before Sister India was released.

In "Success Sucks" U.K. writer Hamish MacFarlane has written a funny and "spot-on" piece about getting over sophomore slump to get going on his second novel.

"...I want to be read. I want people to see my take and say, you’re spot-on about that, and you put it in such a pretty way, too. I know this is true because it’s the opposite of my enduring number one fear of writing, not that I’ll fail to be published but that people will read my work and say, oh you freak, that’s not what the rest of us think at all."

It hasn't been easy for him. It wasn't easy for a lot of us. New kinds of boldness are needed, just when you think you had it made and didn't need all that sort of thing any more.

MacFarlane simply realized that the stories start to form anyway, best to just write them down instead of feeling guilty about not doing it. Plus, he wants to see how the story turns out. This attitude is part of what I think of as distance-runner boldness: endurance.

A note: MacFarlane complains (and you must go read it) about people constantly asking how's that new novel going? That question drove me crazy for a long time before Sister India came out. And then my annoyance faded, don't know how or why.

But I heard a good piece of advice about dealing with it. A woman I know who does strategic planning for movie studios, etc. said: just keep in mind that When's-your-next-one-coming-out? simply means Hello. It's something to say to show friendly interest, not asking you what you got on your report card.

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Mojo said...

Maybe your annoyance faded once Sister India hit the streets because it was a good book and you knew it.

Well... I liked it anyway.

Peggy Payne said...

Thanks, Mojo. I'm glad you liked it. Your opinion definitely counts.

mamie said...

Many times, "When's your next one coming out?" might be interpreted as an impatience by a devoted reader to read the next one. On the other hand, "How's the writing going?" is more of a "how are you doing" kind of question.

You make a good point about the risk of success feeling like pressure instead of like a measure of success on which one can rest, then move forward.

Peggy Payne said...

I think when's-your-next-one is always well-intended.

At a party some months back, I said to a visual artist, "Still painting?" which was the equivalent of saying to Barack Obama, "Oh, are you running for something?"

I saw on her face the faintest cringe. And I had even read a funny piece this same woman wrote in, I think it was Artforum magazine, on "what not to say to an artist" or some such.

Mojo said...

@Peggy: That last one sounded like Bill Engvall's "Here's Your Sign"...

But seriously, after a brief and tempestuous relationship with a painter/gallery owner I can tell you that the list of "things not to say to an artist" is long and broad reaching. Longer and broader still if you're not recognized as a member of the artistic community. This explains the "brief and tempestuous" part. But it was a growth experience, na?

Peggy Payne said...

I like to believe that everybody's an artist.

But do you think everybody is as touchy as artists/writers, etc?

It may be that anyone who got into the position of trying to sell their private creations and live on the proceeds would naturally get a little crotchety.