I did not take the Yellow Brick Road in pursuit of my writing career. It would have been easier if I had. Instead, I looked up from that winding path that lost itself in the first turn that was nearby, set my gaze on the glow from the Emerald City, and took off for it in a straight line through uncharted wilderness. I did not want to waste time on any long and winding roads.
There are dangerous places hidden in wilderness areas, to which the ignorant are not immune. Deep woods, wild seas, trackless deserts, and backwaters that often lead to bogs and swamps are there. Rarely will one come upon fellow travelers in such places. Once lost – and there were many times that I was – the option to go back becomes marred by the fact that you no longer know how to do that.
Not knowing enough was my worst enemy.
It was different back then. There were no droids named "Yahoo" or "Google" that could conjure up answers to questions on any subject within a mere few seconds. If there was an Internet, I didn’t know about it, and if there was such a thing as a "PC"…. I couldn’t have afforded it even if I wanted one. A writer could glean a bit of knowledge from what others had written down, but few did anything beyond telling their own personal stories, and those usually scarce of the nuts and bolts of how they actually did things. Even less of them were accessible to the general public, with hardly any networking (outside of personal friends) going on at all. It was a lonely road.
I made countless mistakes: some that still make me cringe even to this day. Like looking up the telephone numbers of publishing houses, getting them on the line, and boldly proclaiming, "I’m a writer – do you need one?" Usually, no. At long last (probably in another Writers’ Digest article) I came across something called the submission process. Ah-ha. So, that’s how it was done. Immediately, I took one of my best offerings (a children’s chapter book titled The Swan Hero) and sent it off to the first company on an alphabetical list that had been included there. Not long after, I got a reply.
"We would be happy to publish this delightful story. Enclosed, please find a copy of our standard contract… you should see your book available in about eight months…"
Eight months? That seemed an inordinate amount of time. Why should I wait so long when I had been waiting years already? Surely there was someone who could do better than that (nearly a whole year!), and – now that I finally knew the process for getting my material looked at by the right people – I was sure I could find more of them. This was a great story (in my opinion), and children needed to be able to read it right now. So, I typed up a letter that said as much, requested they return my submission, thank you very much, but eight months to publish something was bordering on the ridiculous. Then I went shopping.
Somewhere between the frozen vegetables and the cereal isles, I came to my senses. What had I done? What if EVERYBODY took eight months to publish a book, or maybe even longer? What if this had been my one and only shot out of the wilderness, and I hadn’t taken it? Worse yet, I had shunned it. I had never actually seen the Emerald City, only the glow of it. Perhaps it was not the great castle I had imagined, but only many small houses nestled close to each other. If that was the case, then this little publishing house could very well have been –
I didn’t even finish my shopping. I left my half-full cart in the middle of an isle (my kids thought that was hilarious) and tried to race home before the mailman came so that I could snatch that ungrateful, offending letter out of the box.
We had pancakes for supper, my lovely manuscript came back in a few days, and there was not another house on that entire list that was willing to so much as give me a look – much less a contract. Meanwhile, I went back to the yellow pages. I had gone through all the book publishers, and was now down to periodicals.
"Hello, I’m a writer… do you need one?"
Finally… one did.
What’s happening on the farm today: Temperatures dropped overnight and the water in the horse trough had turned to ice, again. Trudge back across the pasture for the ax, duck under the fence and haul it back (it’s a splitting maul, really, so it’s heavy), and then try to break through. I learned something in this exercise. The ice seemed thicker than it was last week. Nothing but little chips flying at each swing – it would take me all morning to do this. Worse yet, I’d run out of energy because I was too out of shape to swing that ax for very long. Then I remembered some ancient karate wisdom and – instead of trying to get through the ice – started trying to get through the underlying water. It worked! Now I am convinced that if you want to break through anything, you must think beyond it, and not simply concentrate on how strong the obstacle is.
Habit status: Day 12 round 2 (the end is in sight)