Post #108: Good Medicine From the News Feed

fb_icon_325x325My relationship to Facebook is that of a guy who got convinced to go to a party he’s now having trouble fitting in at, but one he’s still pretty glad he came to anyway . I’m not a constant status updater or gobbler of my friends’ every whim and posting, but I’m not a stranger either. Nor am I too cool for Facebook school. I check the news feed every day or two, post something at least once a week. Quite often, I’m left chuckling, shaking my head, or feeling very little at all; however, there are moments, such as recently, when my friend and fellow Bread Loaf alum Courtney Maum (pictured below) posted what felt like very good medicine to me, when Facebook seems pretty damn necessary.

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She wrote:

“Ten years ago, when I was still living in Paris, I wrote a novel called “The Blue Bear.” I was uncommonly lucky and got an agent for it and an interested editor at Doubleday right away. I worked on revisions for said editor all summer, talking with her on the phone, assured that when I returned to the states in September, we would sign a book deal. Revisions accomplished, I returned to Connecticut and the meeting was set. One week before this meeting, not only did the editor change her mind, but she also quit her job, leaving me “orphaned,” the offer gone and a dream dissolved.

I was totally thrown off-track by this turn of events. My writing became awful—I quickly set about writing something more “commercial” which was what the other editors who read the manuscript said they wanted. I became sad. I eventually became sadder. I left New York because I felt jealous and competitive and envious of anyone who was having success and it made my writing—and the process of writing—worse.

It took me a very long time to get rid of the disappointment and bitterness. YEARS. And then I got the joy back. I started writing for me again, not for some faceless audience and editor that I didn’t have. I stopped asking myself whether or not I was going to be liked or be successful, or quite simply, be published, and just started writing. And so it is, a full TEN YEARS after the crash of this first novel that a serendipitous alignment with the incomparable literary agent Rebecca Danielle Gradinger gave me the encouragement and motivation and courage to pick this decade-old project up again. And it is with some serious joy and emotion that I’m happy to tell you that the entirely new version I’ve quietly been working on has just been purchased by Sally Kim at Simon and Schuster for publication (if all goes well) next summer.

My friends: keep working. Keeping working hard for YOU. This journey taught me a very difficult but important lesson about patience, and generosity, and getting over oneself and getting the work done.”

I’m excited for Courtney. A little jealous, yeah. But I like to think it’s the good kind of jealousy. 

I spend a lot of my time alone in front of a computer typing words onto a screen that add up to stories. I do this for a variety of reasons. Obsession. Joy. Love. Ego. Desire. Avoidance. The reasons one creates are not readily understood or explained. But the sustaining force that propels me up to my attic writing room at the end of a long ass day when I just want to watch Jersey Shore is the sort of quiet passion that, I think, Courtney re-discovered. That unmistakable feeling of (wait for it, now don’t gag) personal accomplishment. Of a job well done. Call it whatever you want. Whatever it is, though, it has to be your own.

I’m working on a long novel right now and hope to begin formally submitting it to agents in the fall. That process, one that’s indescribably daunting and scary, is also one that’s very different from the protracted creative dream that brought the novel to life. As I’ve gotten closer and closer to the finish line, the two worlds, the business and the creative, have been moving closer together in my periphery, reaching out to touch so they make out like horny teenagers and make a mess of things. Courtney’s words have helped me find some courage to keep them (or at least try to) separate for now. To write the book that I need and feel compelled to write without the crushing burden of expectation. All that is out there, waiting patiently.  

By the way, if her news isn’t convincing enough, take my word for it that Courtney is a fantastic writer, and much of her writing is very humorous and will brighten your day. Check out an installment in her series “John Mayer’s Guide to Foraging” here. You can also follow Courtney on Tumblr and I recommend you do so. http://courtneymaum.tumblr.com 

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