Sunday, July 7, 2013

The Hard and Easy Truth

Publishing looks easy.  There’s your name on the cover and the words inside.  You wrote them.  Fixed a couple of them.  They bound it all together.  Done.  
Oh, and it’s even easier for some people who pump out words like it’s their job.  It is -- and they do it so quickly, write many books in one year, and there’s their name again on the cover and their words inside and someone bound it together.  Done.  Done.
Sure, those are fast guys and gals who run with the fast crowd, but anyone can do it, see; you just need to strings words together like beads on a necklace and boom, there’s your necklace, your name engraved on the outside.  Finito.
My favorite sport is baseball.  I love the sounds, the smells, the teams—but most of all, I love the illusion.  I’m a sucker for it.  A SUCKER!  You hold the bat, you swing it, it connects with the ball and then you run. In the field you catch the ball and throw it to someone.  It’s so simple that I play catch every weekend with my father-in-law and practice my curveball, changeup, slider.  I played organized baseball until I was 16 years old.  I still have never thrown a curve or a knuckler in a game and I probably never will.  But when I have a catch with Bob, I’m fully confident—no, convinced—that if the Phillies called me tomorrow or sent me an email via my website, that I could strike out a big leaguer with a curve.  No problem, no sweat, ain’t nothin’ but a chicken wing.
I’ve never hit a home run.  Not in tee ball or little league but that doesn’t stop me from assuming a baseball stance and swinging.  Like, six times a day.  I'm lousy on air guitar but masterful at air baseball.  When my wife is watching The Bachelorette, I just assume the air baseball position and swing away.  Yes of course with perfect form and balance, and yes of course do I break my wrist as my bat meets the b—air. And yes, if the Yanks mailed a letter to East Meadow, NY, and requested a pinch hitter, though it’d be treason to put on those pinstripes, I’d pinch hit.  Of course I’d get a hit.  Probably an extra base hit.  Likely a home run.  Because, seriously,  how hard can it be to hit a baseball?
It’s even easier than writing a book—I mean, how hard can that be?
Well, when you tell people that you wrote one, they say one of the three things:
  1. “WOW, AWESOME, AMAZING!  It’s so refreshing to see someone that’s not another 31 year old moron.”  My teacher said that to me this week in a graduate education class.
  2. “Huh, interesting.  I only have one friend who writes books; she published Harry Potter, or maybe it was another version, and it sold over 500,000 copies in the first week.”
  3. “Why would I want to buy that book?  Your wife must have written that.  If you wrote that, it just goes to show that anyone can do it.”
As a high school English teacher who gets up at 6, teaches writing until 3, and then grades it from 4-6 every weekday, and then from 10-3 every Sunday, every single week of the year (okay, until July), I believe that anyone can write.  That anyone can draft a manuscript.  Can edit.  Can ultimately publish.
But . . . it’s hard.  (Yes, I’ve banged my head against desks and thrown pens.  Yes, I've taken showers longer than a season finale of American Idol.  Yes, last week, my wife, in giving directions to some swanky mall in Manhasset, NY, said, “Oh you remember that mall.  I was trying on my wedding dresses across the street so we left you in a coffee shop there to write for a couple of hours.”  We got married three years ago; the story I was working on is getting published this January.)
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for editing—preach it, in fact, so strongly at school that it borders on violating the First Amendment—but writing is hard.  Baseball is hard.  And writing is too. Here are some reasons why:
1. It takes concentration.  A lot of it for a very long time.  Unless you have practice staring at a magic eye, finding a clear plot in a mess of notes isn't the easiest thing to do.  (I do have some practice at staring at magic eye posters, like this one, but I still have no idea what's inside.)

2. Not all human beings are insane and silly enough to fail a whole bunch of times and still want to continue.
3. Life is complicated.  Responsibilities tug at us like we’re Stretch Armstrong.

But we’re not Stretch Armstrong.  We aren't that tan.  We don't wear skinny black undies every day.  We have limits.  We aren't that flexible or stoic or determined or willing to be tugged by strangers with creepy smiles.  We don't have boys with bangs and brown turtlenecks grinning at us when we wake up everyday and do things that are hard.    And we don't have Stretch Armstrong's abs.  At least I don't.

4. There are many rules to writing and they're annoying and tedious and yes I'm a high school English teacher and I love my job.
5. “The Zone” is a fickle little place that doesn’t let you in very often and when it does, you have to cook dinner and take out the trash and go to work, and then later on that day when you’re free, you knock and say “Hey, ‘The Zone,’ I’m free now, wanna hang out for an hour?” it says, “No.”  Then, “Heck no.”  Then, “Hell to the no.”  [Sing it with Glee] Then, “You’re still trying to get in?  Give up!  We’re through!  Forever! Ha ha!"
6. Most times when I open my manuscript, crack my knuckles, and get started all I can think is You stink at this.  You seriously, seriously do.  You should have invented the iPhone.
7. You become friends with people who write books and you see their books in airports.  Then you get on the airplane and stare at your manuscript.  And then the stewardess says they no longer serve peanuts.  Or pretzels.  And "give me money for headphones."
8. Your cousin brings up the fact that you considered being a doctor.  A doctor, she says, and your head already hurts because you just spent the last 11 hours locked in a dark room by yourself and your laptop and feel lonely because writing is lonely and you could have been a doctor.
9. Long Island taxes are not your friend.  Pressure isn’t either.  The harder you press, the more you write lines like this: “Well, I did hear once at a writer’s workshop that the best way to fight writer’s block is to write anything, so here goes: I can’t think of anything to say, anything, anything, anything, anything, I am feeling hungry so maybe I—no, I’m supposed to sit.  Sittin’ on the dock of the bay, watching my  day slip away . . ."
10. Critics are like banana peels.  They try to make you slip and the longer they hang around the more they  stink.
So, how to find some measure of success at something so hard?
Beats the heck out of me!
No, that's not entirely true.  (It's mostly true.)
Together we'll conquer this writing thing.

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