Last week I became a member of an elite community: I completed the formatting for Abyss of Chaos as outlined in the Smashwords Style Guide by Mark Coker. Now, I’m not saying that this community is particularly small. In fact, Smashwords’ home page proudly declares, “1,678,436,983 Words published!” But those oblique numbers reveal little, in a sense. They could refer to a proud but few bodaciously loquacious authors, (*ahem*) or — legions of laconic ones. My career as a professional cellist behind me, I plant both feet firmly among their ranks, be it great or small, and come September 1st, 102,000 of those words will be mine.
Don’t get me wrong — I get it. Becoming a novelist is a lot like becoming a soloist. Unless your name is Yo-Yo Ma, it probably ain’t gonna happen. After all, Yo-Yo Ma’s name is Yo-Yo Ma, and your would-be career is bound to disappoint if people show up looking for him.
My bodaciously loquacious point: Just because I’ve joined a smaller community by FINALLY getting a clean, working ePub file of my novel (YAY!) doesn’t mean I’m going to move many books or become the next Dan Brown. That isn’t why I’m totally stoked. I’m stoked because I’m still new enough to this author thing to marvel that I actually wrote my novel; many dream about the novel rolling around in their noodle, but most never write it. Also, those who do finally “get it down,” may never “get it out.” Revisions are tedious, no doubt — but they needn’t be crippling. Novelists, sit up and take a page from a disabled cellist.
There are scores of miserable professional musicians out there, right now, who are angry at their employers, angry at their colleagues, angry at their teachers, angry at their public, and angry at their government. (Not necessarily in that order.) But at the heart of all that anger is training and talent. Unfathomable hours of practice, lessons, rehearsals, more hours of training than any other career I know — including medicine — all to master one’s discipline and join the ranks of the professional musicians. These are the reasons we did this, right? Well, maybe.
Yes, we need food on the table. Yes, we need to pay the bills, and God knows your measly $21,000 a year job isn’t going to get you that $10 million Strad you’ve always wanted — but I posit that all that anger comes from having lost a good reason to give all your sweat, tears and dreams to a career in music in the first place. It wasn’t for sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. (Man, if that was the reason, you were waaaay off. Classical music, people. Classical music.) No, you need a good reason. A simple reason. Like, how about for the love of music?
Cue: Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet.
For the musicians: calm down. Set your bows back on the stand, put your reeds in their cases. Brass players dump their spit on the stage (sorry, condensation). For the love of music. I’m not saying this to be mushy. I’m saying it because it’s true. It’s true, and you know it. Think of it like exercise. Are you going to the gym fifteen times a week to be on Maxim’s Top 100/GQ Sexiest Man Alive, or are you doing it because you love taking care of your body? Because if it’s the first, well, there are only 100 on Maxim’s Top 100 this year (1 Sexiest Man for GQ) and your vote doesn’t count. That means that someone else’s vote does count, and you are not the boss of him/her. (You are going to the gym fifteen times a week, right?)
Authors: Yes, you also need to put food on the table. You also have professional expenses which are out of range, (can you imagine if that awesome editor you can’t afford cost $10 million bucks?) and you also are up against ridiculous odds. So what are you left with? You can freak out. You can declare bankruptcy. You can go do something else. You can take a long walk off a short cliff. Or, you can find balance.
I’m not talking Zen balance, though that’d probably work, too. No — I mean balance in your life. You can’t write all day every day. You can’t live only for that Pulitzer you’ll never get. Take a walk. Blow off some steam. Raise a kid. Buy a dog. Plant a garden. Play your lonely X-Box 360. Then, once you’re nice and chillaxed, remember: you’re a part of an elite community. Not everyone gets to do what you do.