CONFESSIONS OF A FAILURE:
WHY I’LL NEVER BE PUBLISHED
“You should write a book.”
I have heard that more times than I can remember. At first, I took it as a compliment, and would even express my gratitude at the appreciation. After a while, though, it was old news.
“I already have.”
It was a novel, of course, since Literature was my first love. It took me a month just to be satisfied with the first paragraph. I’d write fifty pages, throw them out, and start all over again. And then, I’d write seventy-five pages, throw all of them out, and begin again, peeling away certain sentences from hundreds of pages of dozens of drafts until I was somewhat satisfied. Eighteen months later, as I was about halfway done, I finally found the four words I needed to complete that first paragraph. It had taken me so long because I take writing so seriously, and, to this day, I still cringe in disgust — and horror — when I see people abuse the craft.
After the first draft of the novel was done, I sent out seventy-five query letters to literary agents who, I thought, would respect my craft. (In those days, query letters required stamps.) I got a handful of responses asking for a synopsis and the opening chapters, but none of those literary agents were interested enough to represent me. So I submitted my manuscript to a distinct university press that I knew would be interested.
If you know anything about publishing, you probably know that a university press does not usually publish fiction. So, of course, when this particular publisher expressed a serious interest in my work, I felt like I had struck gold. And this publisher pushed me to be a better writer, constructively criticizing even the most minute details of my work, from nominative pronouns used in the objective case to distinct descriptions of character appearance. I knew for certain that I would be published; it was only a matter of making minor revisions.
But, by this time, I needed a break. I had been writing and revising and editing for years. I would talk about it everywhere I went with anyone who would listen. And I would even test ideas for certain scenes and characters by telling excerpts as if they had actually happened, just to see if I would get the reaction I wanted. Writing became my life. I had even started a second novel. Teachers wanted me to speak at schools. Grad students would write papers about me. And professors wanted to use my novel to construct their courses around the significant themes of my work. Needless to say, some time off sounded like a good idea.
It was about this time I rededicated my life to God, but I was uncertain what He wanted me to do with my writing. It seemed selfish, to me at least, to use a gift He had so freely given to make money. This is a personal point of view, not a general criticism; I had simply learned enough about the absurd celebrity culture in America to be suspicious of fame and fortune, much like a lottery winner becomes suspicious of his friends. Because I had questions, I asked God for answers.
One afternoon, I grabbed my manuscript, went to my bedroom, and closed the door. Setting my novel upon the mattress, I knelt at my bedside and prayed.
- “This is Yours. Do with it what You will.”
In that moment, I had surrendered my novel, my dream, to God; I had freely given to my Father the gift He had freely given me.
Over the next few months, I would work on the final revision every so often, but as I began to seek God more and more, I would spent less and less time on it.
And then, my life changed forever when my friend committed suicide. She had been one of the first people to read the first draft of my manuscript. She loved it, too, and was very excited about my manuscript getting accepted by the same university she had herself planned to attend. But, when I realized she was gone —
- — Honestly, I just gave up.
I had been so focused upon my dream finally becoming a reality, I lost sight of the vision that had led me to it in the first place.
So, I gave up on finishing that final revision. The price of my dream was not worth the cost; she’ll never read it now. I wrote that book to help people like her; I’d had a mission, a calling, a purpose — or so I’d thought — but, it’s too late now. I failed. I have no place in the world, no purpose. Because, in the course of my travels, I realized that when people write about their own tragedies, they write about enduring the trauma; nobody can tell you, with satisfaction, how to handle the emptiness that lingers on years later in your own defeat. So, I am a man out of words.
I tell myself, every so often, that I’ll get to it one day, but I know that’s just an excuse. Every once in a while, though, my heart and mind return to the world I created in those pages. The characters now are like best friends with whom I’ve long since lost touch. But, when I wonder how they’re doing or what they’re up to these days, I realize I’m the only one who always knows.
A part of me is sad to know those characters will follow me to grave, and that they will stay there (unless, of course, somebody finds the drafts). But, I’m a recluse now, living an invisible life on the internet, a man both known and unknown. And the extent of my fame, if you can even call it that, seems only to rest within the predictable arguments of those who would make irremediable issues of serious problems.
Perhaps someday, someone or something, somewhere will awaken my long lost love for that story. And those characters. But, I am content in my travels, awaiting the day I can find a quiet corner in North America, settle down, and stay out of history’s way.