Out of Time

It always feels like I’m running late, that I have missed my opportunities, that if I don’t succeed right now, I never will.

Every novel that comes out makes me think, by the time mine is done, will the world have passed it by? “Sorry, but we’ve had too many of these lately. If only you’d sent us something a year ago.”

Every time a writer friend gets a book out or signs an agent, I’m happy for them, and yet also feel like someone has taken my spot. That by the time I finish my book (again) I will send it out into the world and the world will say “Gosh! If only we’d seen this a year ago.”

My novel talks about race and culture, but I worry that it does so in ways that are too specific to my generation of children of immigrants, and so perhaps it is already too late for this book, since everyone has moved on and what I wrote is now a strange sort of historical artifact.

An agent turned me down because there were so many other great South Asian writers who’d put out amazing and award-winning books recently. (To be fair, I now see that my book wasn’t ready.) Did I miss a period in time when you could be South Asian and put out something that was pretty okay? There are so many marginalized writers putting out amazing work these days–will the marketplace look at mind and say, “Sorry, but we have filled our quota. You have missed your chance.”

I’m over 40, so I’ll never be one of those “Top 40 under 40!” writers, also known as young whippersnappers. Will they say I’m too old to have a promising career?

I have a young child, and so I live in fear that I will become one of those women who had a lot of potential but never did anything with it after becoming a mother–it’s easy to see how that happens in these early childrearing years.

If only I could get the mostly-done-but-not-quite novel out now, and then I would never have to worry about never doing it.

I can tell myself over and over that this sense that I have missed my chance is bullshit, but the feeling doesn’t fade. Which in turn leads to more struggle on the novel, because if I have already missed my chance, why bother? And if I have not, well, I must rush and get it perfect NOW or else I will miss it. Forever. What a waste of potential. No pressure.

I grow old …. I grow old …
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

And would it have been worth it, after all,

And in short, I was afraid.

I guess there’s nothing for it except to disturb the universe.


I believe in spite as a motivator. Nothing has worked better for me than to prove myself to some entity who probably couldn’t care less about me. (NB: This is bad relationship advice. Ask my therapist.)

But spite is what got my through my undergrad in Computer Science. Fuck you, programming! You think I can’t do this? I’ll show you! And then I did it, even graduated with distinction and promptly never worked as a programmer again.

My first Nanowrimo? Nailed that motherfucker. Needed to prove to the world in general that yes, I can so write a shitty novel. (The world has yet to congratulate me for this effort.) My second Nanowrimo? My back proved to me that ergonomics are important. Fuck you, Sonal.

Consequently, I have a writing nemesis. Who actually doesn’t know that they are my nemesis, and probably doesn’t care a whit about me, but unfortunately that means I have to keep juicy details rather vague, since we are technically ‘friends’.

In fact, my nemesis is actually my second nemesis. The first gave me a patronizing speech about being the ‘cusp’ of being published, and so therefore I was not worthy. I was also unpublished, and nemesis #1 had never read my work, but somehow he had determined I was not on the cusp. He put great thought into this speech, as he was trying to generously help a lesser writer such as myself.

I send out work in earnest and shortly thereafter got my first publishing credit. Paid. In an anthology, meaning there was an actual book with my name on the cover. (The back cover, but still the cover.) I had a play produced. I published more stuff. Nemesis #1 has yet to publish anything. Go cusp yourself, asshole.

By contrast, Nemesis #2 never really did anything to me–aside from stumbling over their ego–but my belief is that their writing does not deserve the accolades it receives, and as such, I have chosen to focus all my writerly jealousies and venom onto this one not-necessarily-deserving person who (in all probability) would be happy for my successes. But I can still pretend they are inwardly seething. This has the advantage of leaving me free to be happy for everyone else’s success, so I’m okay with sacrificing this one person to the full force of my mental bad will.

Still, one thing Nemesis #2 does genuinely do better than I do is stay disciplined to produce more work. For a while, I told myself that this was because Nemesis’ life was better arranged in support of their writing, but this is no longer true. And so I am left with the fact that I suck at routine. Self-imposed goals and deadlines slip by. I buy donuts to reward myself but then eat the donut before writing anything. The tricks to force myself to stay on task keep wearing thin.

Even the trick of having a Nemesis. Because what I see more and more, is that my nemeses are reflections of myself. Although I have nicer hair.

Nemesis #1 was my own desparation to prove that I could really do this, and that I belong. And once I moved beyond that, I no longer thought of him. Nemesis #2 is my own desire to succeed. We are both driven, but they work harder. That is a problem I could solve, but haven’t yet.

And this realization makes it difficult to push on out of pure spite. So what’s left after that? The pure joy of accomplishment? I am not sure I know what it’s like to do something and not at least quietly say “Fuck you!” to someone.

Still. At some point, I suppose I should try and acheive something resembling maturity.