I have been wooing the same love interest for seventeen years. A fickle flirt, this affair has waged from crush to outright war, and seeing as how I got a mighty fine kiss this morning, I’d like to share my passion’s journey with you today.
In short, I am in love with writing.
But like most fraught love stories, I haven’t always recognized the face of my love. I haven’t always treated her right. I haven’t always been true.
I was the best when I was the most innocent. As a thirteen-year-old, I shoved poems into my English teacher’s hand, only to storm away without a word. I filled notebooks. I wrote a short story memoir about my grandfather’s death that somehow circulated through my class. I was almost horrified, but then, I refused to care. After all, my writing was for me.
In college, I became a bad girlfriend. I neglected my poetry and took a screenwriting shortcut, proclaiming that there was money in film—money therefore worth.
I badmouthed my creative writing degree for laughs, slowly beginning to believe the derisive banter that an unpublished writer isn’t a writer at all. And how in the world would I ever publish?
I’m surprised that my passion stayed with me. She had every right to leave. But somehow she did stay, and I renewed my love for writing on the campus of Vermont College of Fine Arts.
In grad school, I wrote words for the sake of words. Words for the love of writing. Yet when I graduated, I chained myself to the expectation of publishing all over again.
Stubborn as I am, a year later I had the fortune to sell my first novel. I was so excited. I thought my passion would rejoice inside me forever. I was ready for my barbaric yawp across the roof of the world.
After the initial thrill, I was shocked to find no finish line feeling. There was only a new blank page and a thick confusion. Shouldn’t I feel fulfilled? Completed? Isn’t my passion justified? Why am I simply aching to write another novel?
I told myself to sell another book and that would solve the problem. Multiple-book authorhood–maybe that was the trick. But when my second book sold two months ago, I felt the exact same ache to write, write, write.
I reached out to my mentors at VCFA and found that I am not alone.
Here’s what Marion Dane Bauer, author of over eighty books, said when I asked about the fulfillment of publishing:
“When I sell a book? There is no letdown there, but the splash of enthusiasm doesn’t last, either. So it’s sold. Good. Now what? Years ago, standing in the shower one morning thinking about that blah feeling against the various successes of my first novel–starred reviews, a film option, etc.–I asked myself, “Are you one of those people who can’t enjoy success?” I decided even before I left the shower that the truth was less negative than that. I’m one of those people who enjoys writing.”
Alan Cumyn, author of books for adults, young adults, and middle grade readers, agreed:
“I began to realize many years ago that the real joy of writing is just that, the writing. It’s the day-to-day concentration, the deep imagining of your characters and your story, the wrestling with words, the hard long look when you get back to a draft after letting it sit for a time, the picking apart and the re-stitching and the rethinking and the slow reading aloud of words that are finally settling into their final form. It’s all of it. The business part is the business part, quite separate from the creation. It has its own highs and lows.”
Shelley Tanaka, editor and translator of numerous novels as well as author of nonfiction children’s books, said:
“Part of this is because there’s never a break. It’s always immediately on to the next thing on a very big pile. I think that’s true of many working writers. It’s a vocation. It’s livelihood. Work. Your reward is that you get to keep on doing it.”
These responses made me take a step back. I looked at my passion in a more natural light and realized that my love for writing can never be measured or satisfied by books published. Not remotely.
As it turns out, I was right when I was thirteen.
This morning I sat down and thundered at my keyboard for three hours. Afterwards my head was as swilled as if I’d been kissing and laughing and loving the whole time. Then I got the biggest buzz of all from a simple truth: tomorrow I get to do this all over again.
A few weeks ago when I couldn’t make heads or tails of this strange feeling, Marion asked me, “Isn’t it grand that the process is more satisfying than the product?”
Yes. It is grand. It is downright beautiful to love something this much, this hard, this endlessly. Writers are lucky.
Cori McCarthy is the author of the YA space thriller, THE COLOR OF RAIN. Her second novel, BREAKING SKY, will be out next year from Sourcebooks Fire. Inspiration for the hand pictures was taken from this fantastic article where fourteen authors shared their advice for writing as written on their hands.
Cori is the cohost of the vlog series, The NerdBait Guide. Subscribe to the youtube channel here and watch monthly funny videos on YA books, fangirl subjects, and nerdlore!
Touch base with Cori @CoriMcCarthy or on Facebook. Please check out the books of Alan Cumyn, Marion Dane Bauer, and Shelley Tanaka!