I spent last weekend at the annual Pacific Northwest Writers' Association conference, my sixth. My first conference, full of the thrill of joining the professional writing community and seeing myself as "an author," was in 2010. The year I successfully pitched the manuscript that became my first novel, An Alien's Guide to World Domination, was 2011. (I know this because Facebook memories this week is kindly sharing, just with me unless I decide otherwise, my posts from that week five years ago.)
That marked the start of this journey through publication. I've learned a ton since then, and most of the lessons were surprises. I learned to skip the huge panel sessions in which dozens of agents and editors share what they want to acquire - for me, these lure me too far away from my own vision for my writing. (Although it also means I'm not certain what the "hot trends" are for fiction - are zombies still huge?) I learned that, far from being a dog-eat-dog competition, real joy lies in listening to other aspiring authors talk about their books, helping them past the anxiety of pitching to express the reasons they love their stories, so the agents and editors will fall in love with those tales, too.
But perhaps the biggest surprise is that publication is neither an end (as I imagined then) nor a beginning (as many mentors said). Publication is simply another milestone on the creative journey.
It's like finding a fantastic rest stop along the highway, near a place where many roads converge, one with clean restrooms, the option to get good strong coffee from volunteers, and a gorgeous view of the surrounding landscape. You look forward to making it this far, you pull off the road, park in the shade, savor the coffee, and revel in gazing at beautiful mountains, rivers, or plains.
But you know this isn't your destination. You have come a long way; you have more territory ahead. You hope you'll be able to come back here. You aren't sure from which direction. You look forward to your return, and yet you itch to be back on the road.
The lesson is, really, to keep moving, and appreciate these pauses, because the road can be bumpy, twisting, and at times, seem to disappear altogether. So breath, sip, and stretch when you can.
Have I pushed that metaphor way too far? You tell me.
Elizabeth Fountain is the author of An Alien's Guide to World Domination, You Jane, and many unfinished works. She really needs to get back on the road. Find more about her here.