On the surface, two of my great passions—literature and baseball—have little in common. There is the slow burn of a summer day spent at the ballpark with a hot dog, a beer, and the low hum of the crowd, which compares favourably to sitting next to a body of water with a book, a cup of coffee, and minutes drifting by faster than you can know.
Reading literature is one thing, creating it is another. Just as watching a baseball game is different than having a fantasy baseball team. To that end, we can discover another commonality: nobody wants to hear about the novel you’ve written or about your fantasy baseball team. It’s kind of like dreams—the kind when you’re asleep, not the “I one day dream of…” Dreams are extraordinarily interesting to the dreamer, but to the rest of us? As Michael Chabon said, “The only thing worse than my dreams are yours.”
So when I say “I’ve just completed my first novel” or “My best player is out for the season,” I fully expect you to nod your head, look pretty, and do your utmost not to tell me to take a hike off the highest cliff I can find. (You’ll settle for a low one, too.)
On the other hand when I say “I’ve just completed my first novel” I am speaking the truth. I expect nothing more than the cursory “That’s great!” or even “What do you want, a trophy?” What I want, in no particular order, is The Booker Prize, an agent, a publisher, a piece of tiramisu, and maybe a brownie button. What I will get, of course, is rejection letter after rejection letter, spiraling uncertainty, and the gradual erosion of the natural high of writing “The End” 300 some pages after the initial “It was a dark and stormy night.”
The uncertainty and rejection letters are part of the process. No worries there. But there is a powerful feeling that comes with finishing a project as complex as a novel. The feeling is one of boundless opportunity—it’s not a question of writing another one, it’s a question of how many more you will write after the next four. There is no greater confidence boost to any aspiring artist than to conceive a project, work on the project, and complete the project. Except there actually is one greater confidence boost: convincing someone else to believe in the project and invest some capital in it, enabling you to live the life Confucius imagined for us all, doing what we love and thus never working a day in our lives.
It’s similar to the conundrum of needing experience to get a job: the only way to get experience is to have a job, but the only way to get the job is to have experience. Getting a regular job isn’t that simple, of course, nor is having a novel published. Alas, writing the story isn’t enough. There is a way out of the this paradox for writers, even if the same amount of security—none—exists: write the next novel.
This task is made more difficult because all the while you are still pitching the first one, and pitching requires a different but no less difficult sense of commitment and patience. At the risk of being pedantic and assuming my readership exceeds my own eyes, the best and only piece of advice I have to aspiring novelists: do it. And then do another. The universe will tell you when to stop trying.