If one believes those crass, comedic movies aimed at teenaged and twenty-something males, the world’s population is divided into two categories: the popular guys who have gone all the way and the lowly virgins who can’t score to save their lives.
The audience follows the reluctant hero as he faces such formidable forces as his own awkwardness and insecurity; hormones; confounding signals sent by the opposite sex, and—always—the disdain of those bigger, stronger, and better-looking “players” who have already rounded home plate.
(There’s a metaphor here, so bear with me.)
In those films, a stark line divides pubescent society, separating the men from the boys, the big dawgs from the underdogs, the studs from the duds.
While I’m sure plenty of young men identify with the protagonist—particularly if they belong to that lower, not-yet-blossomed caste—most mature adults just shrug their shoulders and think, “Dude, quit trying so hard. It’ll happen naturally.”
Bullies and beguiling females aside, more often than not the knight errant (or “knight aberrant,” in the case of the American Pie series) is his own worst enemy. He wants to complete his quest so badly that he’s blind to not only the many faux pas he performs in those ninety-plus minutes, but also to a greater truth that permeates most aspects of life: The journey is as important, if not more important, than the destination.
A similar syndrome can afflict unpublished writers—those literary (if not literal) virgins.
When you’re waiting for approval from an agent, editor or publisher, it’s all too easy to fixate on the difference between those who have “made it” and yourself, an amateur, up-and-coming, not-yet-published, sort-of author who has been waiting for his/her big moment for so long.
Sometimes, we even act like mopey teenagers.
But here’s what I think: We, the unpublished, can be our own worst enemies. Don’t get me wrong, an aspiring author needs to get his/her crap together. Proper hygiene in the form of a well-groomed manuscript is important, as is a positive, professional attitude. An up-and-coming novelist needs to put his/her best foot—and fiction—forward.
Like those pathetic protagonists in the movies, we dabblers battle the insecurities inherent in putting ourselves out there through our work. Creativity rages through us like hormones, and we can’t help but crave the attention of those we admire. Not so unlike gossip, there’s no shortage of confusing advice out there. We read a hundred conflicting how-to articles in search of a surefire way to achieve our shared dream.
I’m no exception. With a novel up for editorial consideration at a major publisher and a short story I’m shopping around, I oscillate between cautiously confident and incredibly frustrated. In the past year, I’ve even pouted a bit in this blog (“I should be thankful, but…” “Art vs. entertainment” and “In defense of the dabbler…or…why getting published might not be all it’s cracked up to be”).
In those moments of negativity, exasperation, and loneliness, an undiscovered writer can get a little desperate. Once upon a time, stooping to a vanity press was about as low as…well…paying for it. Today, self-publishing in the form of e-books has become commonplace, but even if some are finding a modicum of success in this self-service option, it’s not the “true love” most of us yearn for.
There’s nothing wrong with dreaming big—except when single-minded obsession makes it seem more like a nightmare.
The problem with tying one’s happiness or self-worth to a manuscript is that a writer can do everything right and still fall short. Art is subjective, so any given story or style of writing or theme might work for some and not others. Furthermore, when one or two individuals serve as gatekeepers, it can become a matter of personal preferences. The right manuscript has to be in front of the right set of eyes at the right time. Kind of like fate.
See how this starts to sound like a parent giving the “Your time will come” speech?
But the metaphor goes only so far. Even if kids can be cruel, most successful novelists aren’t looking down their noses at those who have yet to get a book deal. In fact, the rest of the class isn’t whispering behind your back about how long it’s taking for you to get published. You’re just being oversensitive and perhaps a little paranoid.
Getting back to that advice for over-enthusiastic virgins: Take a deep breath, stop psyching yourself out, and keep on putting yourself out there. Because it’s only a matter of time before you get lucky.