We all know the saying “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” Or the phrase “He slept his way to the top.” Meaning someone bypassed the traditional route of hard work, trial and error and made it – reached a goal the rest of the world has to work to earn.
My father had a saying “If you can’t carry the gear, you’re not ready to dive.”
Scuba diving was a hobby of his, and he was a diving instructor in his spare time. It was his philosophy that if you weren’t strong enough to carry your tanks, weights, and gear on dry land – and if you didn’t have the understanding of how to care for the equipment – then you weren’t ready to go diving. No one was going to carry those tanks for you, either into or out of the water. If you’ve never had the pleasure, let me assure you – those tanks are heavy. This was the 1970’s, they were metal, and if you wanted to go down for any interesting length of time, you had two of them. Then there were the lead weights of your belt, add to that the discomfort of a full-body wetsuit (crucial here in the cold waters).
But once you could manage them – when you were strong enough and knowledgeable enough – you were in for a great dive.
Not long ago, I saw a writer make it to the top. This person had done the writing, and entered the fray of querying agents, suffering the plethora of rejections that is the common plight of our kind. But then, out of the blue for those of us observing, someone came along, picked up this writer’s tanks and gear, and carried them to an agent, and a contract.
While the rest of us stood on the beach, sweating under the weight of our tanks, this writer got a lift. And I can admit, that bothered me. Still does. I’d be willing to bet it bothered more than a few people, but all we could do was offer up the golf-clap of congratulations and keep huffing our own tanks toward the beach.
And that got me thinking about how the dive was going to be that much sweeter for me having to carry my own gear. How finally landing an agent, then a publishing contract, will feel that much more significant knowing I had to do it the hard way. The way 99 percent of us have to go about it. Writing the novels, sweating over the queries, putting in the long hours of agent research, then suffering the rejections until finally, one day, one novel makes it, and pulls me into the ranks of the Traditionally Published.
That’s not to say we don’t get help along the way. Writers are pretty good about helping our kind, offering up suggestions, help, critiques, advice, and a general sense of community. We’re all in this dive together, carrying the same gear toward the same beach. And when one of us makes it to the water, we all cheer, because we know how long that haul was, and how hard the going had been, and we’re thrilled to see members of the group making it – it gives us hope that we, too, will soon be getting wet (or read, if you’re not following my analogy).
Does that mean, if I got a call from my cousin’s friend’s wife’s stepsister’s brother, who was a published author, and he said he could get my manuscript read by his stellar agent – then win me a contract with said agent – that I would refuse?
I’m not stupid.
But would it taste as sweet to win that way? Would I have pride in my efforts, and be able to encourage my fellow writers to keep the faith, keep working hard, keep writing those stellar novels, and one day you’ll make it there too? Could I continue to champion traditional efforts, then admit that I got there riding someone’s coattails?
I know myself too well. I’d be thrilled to make it. I’d be giddy at seeing my novel in print, on the shelves at Barnes & Nobel. But if a hopeful new writer asked my advice – how’d I get where I was . . .
Could you answer that? Could you encourage hopeful writers to work hard, query many, take heart after rejections, and continue to write the good write ? You’ve made it now, but you can’t carry all their gear, even if you wanted to try. You probably wouldn’t refuse if someone came along and offered to help – you’ve been sweating and struggling so long, and that water looks so nice! But would you enjoy the dive as much, knowing you had help your fellow divers didn’t need? Knowing they got there under their own steam?
Of course, my father had another saying, whenever we were out on the boat and he saw a bigger, nicer boat go by. “I wish I had that boat, and he had a feather up his ass. Then we’d both be tickled.”