Except for avoiding the color green in all its guises, I’m not very superstitious. I’ll walk under ladders, cross a black cat’s path and swim less than an hour after eating. Daring, that’s me. But I’m horrifically superstitious when it comes to writing. I think it comes down to things that are important to me. I was like this when I raced cars. Interchangeable parts weren’t interchangeable. Once a wheel was used on the front right side, it always stayed on the front right side until it was replaced. Rose joints got screwed into the same push rods. Bolts held on the same pieces of suspension. I labeled everything so it wouldn’t get mixed up. I apply the same irrationalities to writing, but I feel I’ve gone the extra mile. Like racing, writing “profession” has turned me into a neurotic basket case. Writing is such a subjective world where there is no right and wrong that to tempt fate is folly. Well, that’s my take on it anyway.
I feel the pressure of the writing gods on me daily. They watch me all time and it doesn’t take much to tick them off and make them punish me with a rejection slip. So I’m careful about what I do.
I cross my fingers when I open emails and letters from editors and magazines. Apparently, by crossing my fingers, the contents of the response will change. Considering that my acceptance to rejection ratio is 1 to 5, this method isn’t that successful, but I have to look on the bright side. My acceptance rate could be a lot worse if I didn’t cross my fingers. Pick the bones out of that, Professor Stephen Hawking.
My biggest superstition is that I don’t throw away my novel manuscripts. Hold on a sec. Julie’s telling me to tell the truth. Okay, I don’t just not throw away the manuscripts, I don’t throw away the drafts, from the first to the last. I do eventually, but not until the book is on the bookshelves in the stores. Until then, I live in a tinderbox of potential so as not to tempt fate. Now, this isn’t just an irrational fear. Truly, it isn’t. I have proof to back that one up. Twice, not once, but twice, I’ve gathered up the manuscript, said to myself, “won’t be needing this again,” and tossed it in the recycle bin only to learn a few days later that the publisher has gone bust or decided not to publish. My cockiness led to my downfall. So now I don’t throw out my manuscripts. As soon as I see my book safe and sound on a bookshelf, then I can release my manuscripts to recycle heaven.
There’s a lot of anxiety in a writer’s life—well, there is mine, and most of it is self-inflicted—because the writing world is an unpredictable one. Luck seems to feature in one’s success. How many NY Times bestsellers were on the verge of giving up after a million rejections, but then gave it one more shot and everything changed? Plenty. Superstition is irrational, but so is writing. It’s a crazy profession, so superstition is warranted, and you’ll forgive me if I hang on to mine.