In many ways, a writer's journey has much in common with Arthur C. Clarke’s novel-turned-classic-film 2001: A Space Odyssey.
The hapless author boards his-or-her craft (a manuscript instead of a rocket), launches into a hostile space, and spends many months (or, sometimes, years) in what seems like suspended animation. Time passes, the author alternately waiting for something to happen and struggling with the perpetual fears that NO ONE WILL EVER OPEN THE POD BAY DOORS no matter how much (s)he begs.
(HAL’s got nothing on a writer’s subconscious. Trust me here.)
During those weeks, and months, and years, the author keeps busy, studying craft and working on as many manuscripts as it takes to reach the destination. Agents get queried, tearstained rejections get filed, and life moves on. Eventually, the writer finds an agent and a publisher, or decides the self-publishing path is the right one.
Then, just like the astronaut in 2001, the author's journey reaches its endpoint–the book release. At which point, the author stares in awe at the real, live book in her hands and whispers softly...
“It’s full of stars.”
… fade to black. Journey over. Story ended.
Now, wait a minute.
If you're like me, you saw that ending and said. "That can't be all there is."
WHY DIDN'T YOU TELL US WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
But there's a reason 2001 ended where it did, and why it didn't tell us any more. It parallels the writer's path here, too.
When you get there, you realize the ending--whether we're talking 2001 or an author's debut release--isn't actually the ending at all.
The ending is just the start of another journey.
Publishing is a marathon, not a sprint. (There’s a reason we call it “the writing life.”) The author's initial trip to publication is wonderful, scary, and filled with firsts, and yet it's merely the opening bars of a longer (and even more beautiful) symphony.
Surprise. When it's over? It isn’t over.
And now, another story.
In late December 1973 I was two and a half years old.
A neighbor gave me a pair of lovely presents wrapped in shiny paper and tied with ribbons. I opened the first, unwinding the bow and setting it gently aside before I peeled back the tape that bound the paper. Minutes passed, but I took my time. I savored every moment until at last I removed the wrapping and revealed a brand-new book beneath.
A hardback book.
I don't remember the title but I'll never forget the cool, slick feel of that cover beneath my hands. Immediately, I opened it up and began to "read" the pictures.
My mother gave me a gentle reminder: “Susan, don't forget you have another present. Why don't you open it? What do you think's inside?”
I paused, one hand on the page to hold my place, and looked at the second package. After a moment I answered, "Probably … another book.”
And then, I went back to reading.
That story has more to do with this post than you might initially suspect.
I love my debut novel, CLAWS OF THE CAT. I enjoyed every part of the detailed process that went into its writing, editing, layout, and publication. The book's release came after ten years of struggle, craft, and rejection, and I savored the feel of that book in my hands as I savored the beautiful Christmas book my neighbor gave me many years ago.
But by the time I held my published book in my hands, I had already boarded another craft--the second book in the series. When that one was finished...I started on the next.
Consider this post your gentle reminder to stop gazing lovingly at the book in your lap--regardless of whether or not it's published--and to continue moving forward, one the next phase of your journey.
Because the writer's journey, the writer's life, is not about a destination. Finish a project and start on the next one.
Never let your fears or insecurities stop you, no matter how impossible the journey seems right now. Don't wait on someone to open the pod bay doors and let you enter this realm--success as a writer is something you have to work for, and accomplish, through hard work, determination, and effort. And you can do it, if you try.
But on the way, take time to enjoy the process, no matter where you are.
Today is the dream.
Today is the journey.
Savor this moment.
It’s full of stars.