Want a lesson in hope? Spend time with a writer
The Writers’ Long Game — hoping beyond hope to have hordes of fans hopelessly hooked. That’s a real lesson in hope.
You can get a lesson in hope when you think about people who work with dying patients, or those who fix potholes. But, there are other professions where the lesson in hope is not so obvious.
I’ve made a living by writing twenty years of my adult life. When I look back on those years, it was never about having enough ideas, having enough time or having enough skill at being an author. It was always about having enough hope.
Hope must accompany the idea behind what you plan to write, otherwise, why even bother? At first, you must hope you can arrange the words in just the right fashion to both attract readers, follow all the rules and get your meaning across exactly and efficiently. Sure, there’s skill there, but there is also a world of chance involved, and more so in these times of “easy writing.”
Even ‘Easy’ Requires Hope
I call today’s writing ‘easy’ because from a process perspective it really is too easy. That’s probably why so many people claim to be writers and why there is so much lacking in much of the text published these days. The digital tools we have encourage volume and speed over due diligence and careful expression. And, even though it takes a good dose of hope to write today, it doesn’t require near as much as in the “old days.”
When I started writing, the favored tool was a typewriter. I’ve often thought most writers are “hunt-and-peckers” because they don’t like structure. So for many, typing is already a chore. But, typing on a typewriter is an even bigger chore.
There were mechanical aspects to typewriters, whether electric or manual, that required your regular attention. Still, the absolute worst aspect of writing on a typewriter was the absence of copy, paste, cut. Those who supposedly knew the ins and outs of the publishing world told us that editors would instantly trash our scripts if we had just a few typos on a page.
So, we spent hours getting the manuscript’s presentation right, never mind the content. Editors would only accept three instances of “white-out” on a page. More than that, and you’re back to retyping the whole thing. Query letters had to be perfect, so, no white-out was the standard for them.
In reality, your hope had to flourish long before you started typing query letters and manuscripts. Right after birthing your great idea you had to research it. Before the internet that meant going to the library. Sometimes, you went to more than one library, depending on the topic. You had to hope that all the hours spent with card catalogs and microfiche readers would fully justify and focus the proposed idea. Otherwise, it was back to mental gymnastics in search of a new idea.
Besides making them perfect, you had to muster a huge amount of hope when sending out your query letters. First you had to research all the publishers who would accept “multiple submissions.” Sending out one query at a time meant it might be years before you found a publisher.
Then, you had to type each query letter. Only the richest of writers had photocopiers. The rest of us typed each query letter. Editors took photocopied query letters from the rich writers because, well, their writings were more likely to sell.
It always seemed there were more people writing about writing than about anything else. Among them were the ‘experts.’ They knew all the ins and outs of the publishing game and sold lots of books and articles on those topics. Some admonished the rest of us to type each query letter so we’d make a better impression. Meeting the publishers’ requirements was a time consuming process.
How time consuming? I estimate we spent 80% of our time researching and querying. Then we’d sit back and let hope spring eternal once again as we waited for responses to the queries.
Today’s writers also must have a great deal of hope as they navigate the idea, research and pitch process widely used today. And, for them as well as for the writers of ‘old,’ the final stage of getting published requires as much hope as all the others.
At the last stage of the game, you are waiting for someone to decide they like your idea, and will publish it. You hope the person you pitch it to receives it when they’re ready to read, when they don’t have a personal crisis going on, when they are not hungry for lunch, when they are open-minded, when they haven’t just been shot down by the boss for having a dumb idea, when they are feeling well, and when they aren’t still mad about the last writer who didn’t deliver what they said they’d deliver.
After it’s all said and done, after you’ve hoped your way through the entire process, you then must hope people read what you wrote. And, if you wrote for money, you must hope you’ll get paid.
But, there is still one final bit of hoping a writer must do. Regardless of the previous outcome, they must have enough hope to do it all over again.