Last week I once again had to answer that dreaded question from a new acquaintance: "So, what do you do?" By now I ought to have a well-rehearsed reply, but I always struggle in the face of this question and its inevitable followups.
This time, though, I think I nailed it, because I came to the question with a newfound perspective. I've had some recent insights about the whole novel-writing endeavor, partly due to time away from my manuscript this summer and numerous conversations with family members about my work. Also, I'd had some recent adult beverages.
"I hate answering this question," I said to the table full of non-writer strangers. "Because I'm an unpublished novelist. Eventually I'll be a published novelist, but the trouble is that it takes a very long time to write a book that's ready to be published. I'm already many years and many drafts into the process, so I'm well on my way, but I'm not there yet."
Then I knocked over my glass of water and it shattered into a plate of appetizers, but right before that, I think I saw everyone nod knowingly. They got it. I'm not an unpublished novelist because I've never made it past chapter 5, and I'm not unpublished because I'm a terrible writer but don't realize it. My dinner companions recognized that I'm doing whatever mysterious writing thing all those successful authors have done, but they're meeting me at the point before the success. Because there always has to be a certain amount of work before success.
Someday those people will hear that my novel is coming out, and they'll be pleased to be able to say, "Oh yes, I know her. She's the one who made a glass explode all over the chicken wings."
Good Stuff Out There:
→ David Abrams describes how he cut half the words from his debut novel after it was acquired and Laura Miller at Salon reacts by discussing why some novels should be longer than others.