It’s usually possible to get where you’re going, but it often doesn’t happen the way you’ve planned.
Last weekend, I planned to meet a friend for brunch in Union Square. Ordinarily, I would take the G train to the L train in order to get there. But when I arrived at the transfer point, I learned that the L train wasn’t running in either direction that day. I went up to street level and got on a shuttle bus, which I assumed would follow the same route as the L train, but that was not the case. The bus looped around parts of Brooklyn I’d never seen before, and I eventually bailed at the next subway stop I saw. I got on a J train (which I had never ridden in my seven years of living here), took it to the F train, and then walked the rest of the way. Needless to say, I was late for brunch. But I got there.
I took a similarly circuitous route to publishing. It took me three years to write my first book, and then nobody wanted it. I did a series of major revisions, but that didn’t help at all. It’s not a bad book—it was just the wrong book at the wrong time. That train had reached the end of the line. So I bailed, and I wrote a different book… which took me exactly where I wanted to go. And now I’m here. Better late than never.
When you ride the subway, you spend an absurd amount of time waiting.
I typically spend ten to fifteen hours a week commuting, and at least a third of that time is just waiting for trains to arrive. And even when I do manage to get on a train, the waiting usually isn’t over. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been trapped in a tunnel between stops, listening to endless uninformative announcements like, “Ladies and gentlemen, we are being held by the train’s dispatcher. We should be moving shortly. Please be patient.” When there’s a sick passenger or a police investigation, trains sometimes come to a standstill for ten minutes while everyone frantically looks at their watches and mutters obscenities under their breath.
When I entered the publishing world, I was completely unprepared for all the waiting. I knew I’d have some down time while I was querying agents and while my book was on submission, but after that, I expected unstoppable forward motion. Guys, it is NOT LIKE THAT. First you wait for your contract. Then you wait for your advance. Then you wait for your edit letter. Then you wait for your editor to read your revised manuscript. Then you wait for your line edits. Then you wait for your copy edits. The waiting never ends. My book sold back in October, and I’m just starting my first round of revisions this week.
When the train finally leaves the station, it’s often at a breakneck pace that throws you off balance.
Pulling out of a station in a packed subway car is a lot like being a domino in one of those falling rows. I often make full-body contact with complete strangers as I flail about for a handhold. The best was the time my train lurched into motion so suddenly that I was literally flung across the car, and a woman who was filing her nails a few seats away reached out and caught me before I fell. She set me on my feet, then non-chalantly continued filing away. It was amazing. When I thanked her, she looked up at me, totally deadpan, and said, “I have really good reflexes.”
When things do start happening in publishing, they often happen very unexpectedly and very quickly. My train is suddenly picking up speed right now—I’ll let you know whether I stay upright. I fully expect to have my feet knocked out from under me. Who’s ready to catch me?
Though trains may not arrive according to any specific schedule, the subway runs 24 hours a day.
With most jobs, you show up, you do your work, and when you go home, you’re done for the day. Writing is the profession that never sleeps. My brain’s three favorite times to throw great ideas at me are when I’m running out the door to go to my day job, when I’m in the shower, and when I’m about to go to sleep. It never fails. I eventually had to install a white board in my shower because I was sick of dashing to my computer dripping wet so I wouldn’t lose the solution to a plot problem. And I am literally always late to work.
You have to be a little bit crazy to ride the NYC subway.
Every morning, before I’m even fully awake, I pack myself into a small metal box with hundreds of strangers and let the the Metropolitan Transit Authority fling me through dark underground tunnels. Part of my ride takes me underneath a river. I try really hard not to think about that while it’s happening, because I’m kind of claustrophobic, and having an entire body of water above my head isn’t something I handle well. But I have no choice. I need to take the subway, so I do.
Like commuters, writers are all a little bit crazy. There are long periods during which we spend more time thinking about people who don’t exist than people who do. We create problems and obstacles, then tear out our hair until we figure out how to solve them. It’s insane. But it hurts to stop—as Maya Angelou once wrote, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”
We have no choice. We have to write, so we do.