Monday, November 1, 2010

Like a swarm of fireflies, we are

In my last post, I wrote about how to keep on keepin' on after the thrill is gone. You know, once the romance of actually writing that first novel wears thin and the reality of trying to get it published begins crushing your already fragile ego -- bit by bit, day by day.

It appears that at some point, this point perhaps, many of us seriously consider giving up.

This malady seems to be making the rounds on the Internet like the flu these days. Based on the comments here, the e-mails I've received and reading other writer's blogs, it appears many writers I know online are suffering from it. Perhaps even most of them. It's a head scratcher, that's for sure.

Then it came to me. I remembered sitting outside in early June of this year smoking a cigar (bad habit, sure, but delightfully satisfying all the same. So, shoot me ...) and commenting to my wife about the swarms of sparkling fireflies. We watched them for an hour or so, awed by their ethereal beauty. You know, until the cigar smoke chased them all away. Hey, it works on mosquitoes, too!

A few weeks later, as we again sat on our back deck, I noticed one lone firefly flitting about the back yard. It seemed lost, confused. I swear it was swerving a bit, flying erratically. In it's death throes, I remember thinking. Poor thing.

"They don't last long, do they?" I said to the wife.

"Unfortunately, they don't," she said. "But there will be more next year to take their place."

And that, I believe, is what is happening to so many of us wanna-be writers online these days.

When I started this blog a year ago this month, many of my early blog friends were writers situated about where I was in my journey toward publication -- either they were still writing their first novel or had already finished it but had only just begun querying.

It was a heady time, full of optimism and glee. Well, okay, maybe not. But you get the picture.

We posted our raw queries and let our friends gently help us polish them. We posted snippets of our work and enjoyed the "oohs" and "awwws" of our blog mates. We steadfastly wrote of our dreams and our desires. We talked of our dream agents. We listed the music we listen to when we write. When things got tough, like they always do, we held each other up. Sometimes, we sent each other lengthy e-mails, pouring out our hearts to our kindred writing spirits.

And then, slowly, they started to disappear. One by one, like those late spring fireflies, they've gone away. What was once a swarm of eager new writers was soon a handful of grouchy, slightly depressed burnouts who blog every so often and even then, mostly just snarl at the world. Sort of like rattling the cage just to let everyone know they are still alive.

Like me, for instance.

Oh sure, new friends have come along. Friends in different spots in their writing careers, some of them still full of optimism and joy. Others seem immune to the pain and just keep on going, despite the rejections and the questions from family and friends: "How's your book? Still writing it?"

Even those questions start to wither and die out, don't they? After a while, it seems, everyone just loses faith.

And it's here, dear friends, that I believe published writers are made. Right here. Right now.

I read somewhere that the average lifespan of a blog like this is just a little under a year. I would wager that's about the lifespan of a writer's career once he or she has started querying with little or no success.

It's just too damned hard to keep writing and getting rejected, isn't it?

Yes. It is. But I believe in my heart that it's the few who continue on, past this point, who finally taste success.

When I was younger, I remember going out to my tool shed in the darkest days of winter and finding, of all things, a living firefly crawling along my desktop. The shed was slightly heated and the bug had somehow hung on and lived through the coldest months of the year. It didn't seem possible, and yet there it was.

I remember being stunned, and so moved by its unexpected presence that I nearly burst into tears.

If that little bug was a writer, he would have had a three-book deal with Random House.


  1. jiminey christmas! this is an excellent encouraging post! keep flying man!

  2. I was afraid for a minute you were telling us that the light in your little firefly butt was about the go out.

    I've noticed the ebb and flow of people too. I think sometimes, some tend to think if you can't keep up the same level of blissful zeal as you started, then Fate is telling you it's time to give up.

    Whereas, I think a writing career is a little bit like falling in love. At first it's crazy and exhilarating, but you can't keep up that pace forever. When the initial thrill starts to wan, the relationship either fizzles out or it evolves into something deeper and special in its own right.

    Plug on Little Firefly!!!

  3. Beautiful post, Terry. Love the image of those fireflies. Hang in there. The next book is just as much fun :)

  4. Aspiring: Thanks! :)

    Tracy: My little firefly butt will remain in this seat for the foreseeable future.

    Perri: Thanks. I'm loving my new book, if only I had the time to work on it.

  5. LOL. I kept reading to find out who the bugzapper was in this scenario ;-) I try to be the little firefly that could. Some days are harder than others. Quitting just isn't an option, though. Nothing's ever held my attention this long.

  6. Good post. I am in the down phase right now, not writing much. But, I can't truly give up. I have a few stories in my head that never let me forget about them. I simply must get them out at some point.

  7. Keep at it little firefly.

    I'm right behind you, albeit I haven't the energy to blog about it. Glad one of us does.

    I must work on that ...

  8. Well, I've been writing since I was 9 years old. And I've been blogging for over four years now. I have seen MANY wanna-be writers come and go. I'm always sad when someone I felt connected to up and leaves the blogosphere and/or gives up writing altogther.

    However, I have learned from them - it really does take due diligence, a thick skin, and the undying will to keep forging ahead!

  9. Here's to all us burn-outs, may we strive to crawl across the desk of success.

  10. I'm still plugging along after about 18 months of blogging. Some days with bright burning passion, other days barely making a spark. I'm pretty much at the burn out phase, but I know as my day job slows down, I'll pick up again.

    Writing and blogging I guess are subject to the same mood phases everything else is.

    Glad you're still hanging in there Terry. Its been interesting hanging out with you upon occasion :)


  11. Thanks guys. I actually got quite a bit of writing done today, so perhaps things are turning around a bit. Let's hope it does for ALL of us. :)

  12. You nailed it, Terry. Everyone and his brother/sister wants to be a writer. Some never try, some try and give up, and some just keep on keeping on. Whether they sell or not. The only thing you have to do to be a real writer, is write. Selling your writing is a different animal entirely. And making money? Forget it. Odds are, even if you sell, you'll never hit the big time.

    So enjoy the ride -- er, write!

  13. Gah, I thought you were about to flash out on us, Terry! Don't scare me like that!

    I'm not so sure that the flash and burn out is anything new with wannbe writers, just the public nature of the spectacle.

    "Write a novel" is apparently on most people's "Thing I'm gonna do someday" dream list. They jump in, they type away, they rack up copious numbers of word like things in their word counters... dream fulfilled.

    It's at this critical juncture that the firefly hits the bug the dream hits the screen door... I mean reality hits, and the SQUISH!

    Too many people (who honestly don't know better) believe that the act of writing a book indentures others. They take their shiny "baby" and pass around the pictures, only to find out that their baby is, well, ugly. No one wants to hold it or change it or say nice things about it, and like all indignant parents, they get mad. Rather than changing the nappies and giving the little stinker a bath, they take their toys and go home (Can you tell I went to a baby shower today or what?)

    Rather than realizing they bear the responsibility for getting their dream to work on something other than the fairy dust of their own expectations, they expect others to automatically offer up accolades (and cash) for the sake of its mere existence.

    At some point, the macaroni necklaces are no longer suitable gifts for friends and family; you have to grow up. Writing's no different.

    Too many of those fireflies out there started strong, but once they realized their little bulbs weren't spotlights, they decided it wasn't worth it and went back to dreaming.

    Dreams are fine - write your dream novel - but if you want it to get "out there", then you'd better learn to change your own bulbs and batteries because you're going to be flying for a long time before you find a place to land.

    (Cripes... I think that's the single most analogy-laden comment I've ever written... bad writer. Bad. I blame NaNoWriMo and my word count desperation.)

  14. Great post, Josin.

    You have to write something other people will want to read. Lots of other people. Number one brutal reality.

    Terry, I bop over to your site every week because you're so entertaining. I could never do what you are doing, going through the query process in the public eye. I'd rather cut out my own liver. Keep bashing that keyboard.