Procrastinating instead of writing

When you start off, you have to deal with the problems of failure. You need to be thickskinned, to learn that not every project will survive. A freelance life, a life in the arts, is sometimes like putting messages in bottles, on a desert island, and hoping that someone will find one of your bottles and open it and read it, and put something in a bottle that will wash its way back to you: appreciation, or a commission, or money, or love. And you have to accept that you may put out a hundred things for every bottle that winds up coming back.            –Neil Gaiman

I greatly admire Neil Gaiman and his writing but I often forget what a great teacher he is. I found the quote above when I was surfing the internet in search of some meaning, of diversion, of entertainment, procrastinating about what I needed to do which was write.

I’ve had a few short stories published, but no novellas or novels yet. I work a full-time day job and can only dream of writing for a living–and to be fair, most of those dreams are nightmares–of mortgages and utility bills unpaid, no food on the table, and no clothes on my back.

But Neil is correct that the life of an artist is an attempt, sometimes futilely, to connect with others. Some writers are often obsessed with placing as many messages into bottles as they can cram, flinging them far from shore, sure the odds will be one reaches someone. Other writers pen one short message and send it floating, pinning their hopes to destiny or fate that one day someone will find it washed up on shore. Still other writers, cork their bottled messages and bury them in the sand, thinking one day to dig them up again, polish up that message and throw it out to sea.

I’ve been that last kind of writer my entire life, writing in secret, hiding my prose, polishing a piece until it falls apart in my hands, unusable. I worry that a scene doesn’t conform to this stylistic idea, this editor said to use these kinds of tags, or this subgenre isn’t hot right now. But really, it’s just another way of procrastinating.

My words will never be perfect enough. My words will never be so pristine an editor or agent will be blinded by them and fall at my feet begging to paddle them out into the ocean for me.

But, you know, I’ve come to believe that editors and agents aren’t necessarily looking for something perfect. They’re looking for a sandy bottle that can be brushed off–the one that’s not quite corked, the words on the message faded but with the kernel of a great story.

So I’m writing. Look for my message bottles. They’re out there and I’m working on more. It wasn’t as hard to throw the bottle as I thought it would be.


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