Poets & Writers

Tell Me I’m Good

AS PART of my work as a freelance manuscript consultant, I schedule in-person meetings with my clients to discuss their manuscripts at length. Some writers, I’ve come to realize, save a particular question for the end of the meeting. As we prepare to say our good-byes, the writer leans across the table and asks, “But my manuscript—do you think it’s worth it?”

This question is deceptively layered. The writer is asking if working on a memoir or novel is worth the evenings spent away from family, the lost sleep, the crushing hours staring at a blank page. Moreover, the writer is asking how one can assign a value to the elusive creative process—and I’m expected to provide an answer.

The first time a writer asked this question, I was baffled. How could I possibly determine what constitutes a worthwhile use of another writer’s time? I wondered what other questions might be hidden in the initial inquiry. Maybe, I thought, the writer was really asking: “If I spend all these painful, terrifying, uncertain hours working on this book, can I expect a payoff, or is there a chance that I’ll do all this work and be left with nothing in the end?”

The difficult answer is yes, you really can do that work and not receive the kind of payoff you probably dream about—literary agents, book deals, reviews. So in an effort to be transparent, I told my client about the novels I’d written that didn’t secure an agent, much less a publishing contract. Even so, completing those manuscripts made me a better, stronger writer. In that sense, they were more than worthwhile. They were necessary.

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