Question: I’ve written a novel. Should I quit my day job now or wait till I’m published?
In A Broom of One’s Own: Words on Writing, Housecleaning and Life, author Nancy Peacock answers with a story:
Two women are walking down the road and pass a frog sitting in the grass. “Hey,” says the frog.
“Wow. It’s a talking frog,” says one of the women. She picks the frog up and holds it in her hand.
The frog says, “Listen, I’m not really a frog. Actually, I’m a critically acclaimed writer. A spell was cast on me and I was turned into a frog. But if you kiss me I’ll turn back into a critically acclaimed writer.”
“Well, I’ll be damned,” says the woman, and puts the frog in her pocket.
Her friend asks, “Aren’t you going to kiss it?”
And she answers, “Hell, no. I’ll make a lot more money with a talking frog.”
In 2009, I accepted a challenge to write a four-sentence review of Nancy Peacock’s memoir A Broom of One’s Own. Starting well before the due date, I wrote the first sentence of the review—over and over—and deleted it. Over and over. Sometimes I wrote the same sentence several times in a row. Sometimes I composed a new sentence to demolish. After weeks of literary and rhetorical torment, I produced the following:
I like Nancy Peacock’s A Broom of One’s Own: Words About Writing, Housecleaning & Life so much that it’s taken me over two months and two missed deadlines to untangle my thoughts and write this four-sentence review, an irony Peacock, author of two critically acclaimed novels, would no doubt address were I in one of her writing classes.
She would probably tell me that there is no perfect writing life; that her job as a part-time housecleaner, begun when full-time writing wouldn’t pay the bills, afforded time, solitude, and the “foundation of regular work” she needed; that engaging in physical labor allowed her unconscious mind to “kick into gear,” so she became not the writer but the “receiver” of her stories.
She’d probably say that writing is hard; that sitting at a desk doesn’t automatically bring brilliance; that writers have to work with what they have; that “if I don’t have the pages I hate I will never have the pages I love”; that there are a million “saner” things to do and a “million good reasons to quit” and that the only good reason to continue is, “This is what I want.”
So, having composed at least two dozen subordinated, coordinated, appositived, participial-phrase-stuffed first sentences and having discarded them before completion; having practically memorized the book’s text searching for the perfect quotation to end with; and having once again stayed awake into the night, racing another missed deadline, I am completing this review—because I value Nancy Peacock’s advice; and because I love A Broom of One’s Own; and because I consider it the equal of Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird; and because I want other readers to know about it; and because this is what I want.
Waller Answers Directly with One Sentence: When it takes you over two months to eke out four sentences, don’t quit your day job.
Hear Nancy Peacock talk about A Broom of One’s Own, and about her early novels, on North Carolina Bookwatch.
This review first appeared on Whiskertips. Part of the post appeared here in June 2022. Part of it didn’t.
Kathy Waller, aka M.K. Waller, writes crime fiction, memoir, humor, and whatever else comes to mind. She’s published stories in Murder on Wheels, Lone Star Lawless, and Day of the Dark, and also a novella, Stabbed, co-written with Manning Wolfe. She’s a member of Austin Mystery Writers. She blogs at Telling the Truth, Mainly.