I’m writing this on the day of the tragic shooting in Connecticut, searching for the desire to do anything but shut off my computer and drive to my son’s house, to kiss and hug my grandbabies and never let them out of my sight. My mind is numb, my thoughts with the innocent victims and their families. I haven’t watched the news and I don’t need to; Facebook has become the new face of instant information. I know all I need to know. As a mother and grandmother, just thinking about those murdered children and the unbearable grief that the parents and grandparents will have to live with for the rest of their lives is almost too much to bear. I feel like I have a boulder in my chest.
And yet I have a job to do, one that today, requires me to write two blog posts and finish an author Q & A. With my novel coming out on Christmas Eve and a new grandson due any day now, I need to cross as many things as possible off my to-do list whenever I can.
So here I sit trying to think of something useful to say to other debut authors, to offer sage advice or a helpful tip so they will know what to expect on their journey towards publication. But words escape me.
And yet, maybe on this day of all days, the most important lesson of all can be learned.
As authors, we’re consumed by reviews and blog posts and Amazon rankings and SALES. We give up sleep to finish copy edits. We say no to time with family so we can make our weekly word count. We stay inside on warm summer days, hunched over our computers while our children play and laugh in the backyard. We write just one more page instead of going for a walk or lingering over the newspaper and pancakes on Sunday mornings.
I once read about a famous author who said that the months leading up to the release of his first novel were the hardest of his life. I’ve heard that the stress of launching a book has been known to bring famous celebrities to their knees. I’ve been told that it will be one of the most exhausting things I’ll ever do, that it will give me more problems, not fewer.
And yes, waiting for my novel to drop is terrifying, all consuming, and has kept me busier than I could have ever imagined. There is so much to do: write book two on a deadline, network on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads, answer the daily landslide of emails, contact reviewers, mail out ARCs, assemble a street team, set up a website, make a book trailer, visit bookstores and libraries, write personal notes to book reviewers, sellers and readers, design postcards and business cards, write blog posts, answer interview questions, set up giveaways, schedule book club visits, and keep track of expenses. All this is to be done while keeping my house clean, doing laundry, cooking, and trying to be a good daughter, wife, mother, and grandmother. (I’m in complete awe of anyone who becomes a published author while holding down a fulltime job!) To add to my stress, my husband and I are trying to recover from near financial ruin, and I need to know if this is going be my career or if I should start applying at the nearest WalMart. I don’t need to make a lot of money, just enough to supplement my husband’s meager income. The hard reality is that the course of my life will be determined by how well my first novel does. It’s a lot of pressure.
But I’ve been through worse.
I think that’s why, overall, I’ve been handling the journey towards publication pretty well. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have days when I felt like I was going to have a meltdown, when I wondered what possessed me to pursue this career. I think that’s normal for any author.
But I’ve made a decision, and I was reminded of it today by what happened in Connecticut.
When I feel on the verge of crying or pulling out my hair in frustration, I think about my grandparents trying to keep their children fed and alive during WWII. I think about my mother watching my sister being kept alive by life support after she suffered a severe head injury in a car accident. I think about my mother taking care of my sister at home, feeding and bathing and dressing her comatose body, a body that refused to die even though my sister was long gone—for twenty-three gut-wrenching years. I think of the millions of people in this world who have it so much worse than I can even imagine.
I remind myself that my Amazon ranking or forgetting a blog post isn’t worth losing sleep over, that missing an opportunity to get the word out about my novel is not worth a panic attack, a rise in blood pressure, or an upset stomach. What matters is reading a bedtime story to my grandkids, having drinks with my friends, making love to my spouse, hugging my neighbor, or taking my elderly mother out to lunch. My book comes out on Christmas day, but I won’t let myself obsess over the fact that amid the holiday chaos, The Plum Tree might not make it onto bookstore shelves until after New Year’s, or how much better it might have done had it been released before Christmas instead of after. Instead I’ll be snuggling my new grandson and watching my granddaughters’ eyes light up when they open their presents. I’ll be cherishing their giggles, rosy cheeks, and soft, sweet voices. I’ll be sitting at the table with my family, drinking in their beautiful faces and telling them how much I care. I’ll be grateful for every moment in the kitchen with my mother and brother, talking and laughing while we cook and wash pots and pans. Those are the things that make this life worth living.
So I guess my advice to debut authors is this: If you want to stay sane through this journey and survive it without any regrets, your priority has to be family and life. Getting a novel published is pretty amazing and I plan to celebrate my accomplishment. But life is too short to be consumed by reviews and rankings and sales. The unthinkable can happen. To any of us. I think if the children and parents of Newtown could tell us one thing, it would be this: Live life to the fullest.
You can make that decision now.
You can make that decision now.