It’s hard not to be meta in this time period when we have so much information flowing at us, but I have noticed that there’s a weird sort of detachment that comes with maturing as an artist. Case in point: Even as I put all this sweat into my novel manuscript, I know that it isn’t the end-all be-all of my career, message, mission, voice… and I don’t need it to be. I understand that I am going through my own arc of artistic development and this novel—for all the work that is being invested in it—is simply a measure of that progress. Is it deep? Is it thematically rich? Is it saying something? Does it represent a culture? Does it offer insight into the human condition? I don’t know. It may not event be the best story I could tell, it is simply the novel that got done.
Let’s not get it twisted: being meta about it can be depressing. Who doesn’t love the romance of the vision of the writer pounding out a manuscript with passion and drive and that novel being published to great acclaim.
Alas, that wasn’t/isn’t my story. I have been studying the beast that is the novel since 1995–that will be 20 years next year. Even being someone who is naturally talented at writing and who met success with publishing short stories relatively instantly, I did not translate that talent into easily writing novels. My story was/is: try, fail, try, fail, try, fail, try, fail. I repeated that cycle many more times than I care to count. Add in there stretches of inaction, depression and dissatisfaction due to the fact that I could not do what it is that I clearly have it in me to do, and you could say it took me a stretch of 20 years to learn this novel writing business. That’s depressing.
Beyond finding my own struggle depressing, I also find getting the real truth from writers depressing. Truths such as:
• Keep your day job
• Writing a novel never gets easier
• After writing multiple novels, no one wanted to buy my latest novel
• Unless they think you’ll be a megastar, you’ll have to do your own promotions
• It took me ____ years before writing finally started to pay the bills.
Maturity, to a great degree is moving past magical thinking. I miss my magical thinking–in my 20s you couldn’t tell me I wouldn’t be an important voice in literature soon–but I know that it’s my mature, meta thinking that got me here. Being meta about being a writer helps you withstand the difficulties without defining yourself by them; it quite simply helps you carry on.
On the occasion of completing the third draft of my novel and moving seamlessly and painlessly into my fourth draft, here are a few mature reflections:
1. I now have the mental fitness to write *and rewrite* a novel manuscript, moving it in the direction of a body of work that has a complete arc.
2. I now have the logistics and the process to fit novel writing into my very busy life.
3. I have a new form–novel-writing–that I can experiment with and stretch out into: a space for artistic growth.
4. All the effort and consternation is not in vain.
5. I am potentially adding another book to my list of titles, which is central to my vision of the artist I want to be.
Those are the boring/exciting facts people. You’ll notice that publishing and superstardom is not on my list. Those two things are out of my hands. The mature artist in me knows that I have more basic things to work on before those two things are even a possibility. You know you’re in maturity land when you’re still at it–even beyond the magic and the dream.
Be well. Be love[d].
Kiini Ibura Salaam