Tuesday, May 12, 2009

On rats, hope and publishing

Recently, I was directed by a few different people, including Kathy Holmes, to a great article written a few years ago by Jennifer Crusie.

You should read Crusie’s article here.

But in case you don't... Here's a précis of the part that most resonated with me. Basically, psychologists proved rats that’d been trained to believe there was an island in a vat of opaque water, kept swimming (even when it wasn't there) much longer than rats that had no previous knowledge of an island.

Crusie related this to publishing and how we all need to believe there's an island and keep swimming.

Right now, I happen to be in one of those mind-spaces where I truly believe there's an island in my particular vat of opaque water. I truly believe it's just a matter of time. I truly believe that my not-yet-sold manuscripts, will sell eventually, (just not first), and will be published "better", than if they'd been contracted earlier. These already-shopped projects aren't dead, they're hibernating.

My island is out there. I believe. I'm happy to be swimming again.

Problem is... Even if you’ve seen evidence that your island is there (by way of various bits of success along they way), once you've been around this business long enough, if you're bright, realistic and non-delusional, at various points in time, no matter how much faith you have, you stop believing in the island.

I'll bet the island-believing rats would’ve eventually converted to non-believers, if they’d subsequently been dumped into island-less vats enough times. You can only be smacked in the head so many times before you start to anticipate head smacks. And the publishing business is rife with head smacks. (And writers, even successful ones, are rife with self-doubt.)

Still, thus far, every time I've suffered a major publication defeat, there's been something that keeps me believing in my island. I find reasons to rationalize my failure based on market timing, or some flaw in my project I'd do differently if I had the chance to do it again. Or I remember that the reasons editors failed to bite might be completely out of my control and more to do with their existing list and what they were looking for the day they considered my project. That if I'd been a month (or a year) earlier or later, things might've been different. And there is no getting around the shear randomness of this business, either.

But I do admit, the longer I continue, the more evidence I find to negate previously held beliefs in my island. So I have to find new evidence. New reasons to believe.

And I think that's why many writers revel in the small triumphs. The contest finals. The pats on the back from critique partners or agents or editors or reviewers or readers. The small pieces of outside evidence proving we know what we're doing and the island does exist -- even if we feel, at times, very, very far from shore.

Maybe I need to start entering contests, again.

If you're thinking of entering one... Check this out.

13 comments:

Kathy said...

Thanks for the link, Maureen.

Good point about the rats eventually catching on about the island. :)

And I think I do have to put it all into perspective - be grateful for any accomplishments - and figure what's meant to be is meant to be. And focus on the writing and sometimes hibernate just a little to keep my sanity.

Sinead M said...

There is an island, right?

Great post, Maureen... proving that you and Jennifer Crusie are really smart.

Anonymous said...

Hi Maureen,

I've read some of your work (posted for a big voting contest which I can't remember the name right now). You're a compelling writer. I would have bought your book in a heartbeat.

Success comes at different times for people, but I truly believe you'll be published big some day.

You don't know me, and I don't know you, but I know good writing when I read it!

Take care and have faith.

Susanne

out of the wordwork said...

I've never learned to swim and I hate rats so this analogy was especially terrifying to me however I have to agree. I may not always believe there's an island under the surface but I've got my books keeping me afloat. Those I definitely believe in.

Keep on swimming, Maureen. Your island is going to be huge, with your own bar, spa and more cabana boys than you'll know what to do with.
Nelsa

Maureen McGowan said...

Wow, Susanne. Thank you so much. You really made my day and gave me another reason to believe in the island.

Maureen McGowan said...

And Nelsa, too. Can't wait for the cabana boys!

Amy Ruttan said...

Great article and analogy.

I just keep swimming like Dory in Finding Nemo.

Marilyn Brant said...

Great post, Maureen!

I remember reading Jenny's article when it came out in the RWR--and it really resonated with me, too.

I also remember reading about an author who'd had his work rejected for years but, finally, when he got published, he had a successful 2-decade-long writing career ahead of him. In the end, he said he'd eventually sold every book he'd ever written...so it can happen :).

Kris Kennedy said...

Maureen~
I read your ladies' blog, but I never post. Had to today, tho.

I'm NOT a fan of the automatic chants to 'just stick with it' if someone truly wants to quit writing. Who am I to say what is right for them?

That being said. . . I've read your blogs. I sense how much you love the craftmanship of it. How much you just love to write.

So I truly believe, if you keep swimming, you WILL get to your island. Persistent people who are "workin' it" (paying attention, trying to get better), they succeed.

We have so much research in so many disciplines to show that the people who rise in their field are the persistent, attentive ones.

How many times did Stephen King get rejected? A lot! Like Marilyn pointed out, we just never know when the dam's going to open up.

If you keep showing up, you'll be there when the bus comes by.

I won't layer on another metaphor. :-) But I think you will succeed. Determined people usually do.

Maria Geraci said...

Suzanne is right. I still remember reading your "Miseducation" excerpt. It was awesome. And I want to finish reading that book. Hang in there, Maureen!

L.A. Mitchell said...

I don't remember this article, so thanks for the link, Maureen.

I find reassurance that we're all swimming together :)

Eileen said...

Thanks for the great post, Maureen. I've been in an island-doubting phase lately and have mainly continued swimming just for the joy of swimming. Amazingly, that helps, too. Still, maybe if I can get myself to believe in that island again, I can continue a little bit longer than I would otherwise!

Kristen Painter said...

If only they'd issue us floaties, life would be so much easier...

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