Sunday, March 13, 2016

12 Myths Writers Believe

The other night I went to dinner and met someone for the first time. I was introduced as “a published author.” This young woman, looking way too impressed, gushed “How exciting!”

“Not really.”

It wasn’t the response she was looking for. She thought she’d given me a compliment. I gave her an honest reply.

I’m over it. All the shiny newness of being a published writer has worn off. I can’t maintain the façade anymore. The pedestal has crumbled, my feet are firmly on the ground. Maybe in the mud. Sometimes it feels like quicksand. I’m beginning to understand why Salinger went into hiding, Hemingway killed himself and Hammett became an alcoholic.

There’s no fooling myself anymore. They say fiction writers tell lies for fun and profit. Can writers handle hard truths? Here goes:

1.    Writing is a gift. No, it’s a curse. It’s rejection. There are easier ways to make a living.

2.    We are born with natural talent. Doubtful. “Talent” takes years of reading and absorbing. It takes time in the classroom. It takes studying spelling, grammar, punctuation, sentence structure and craft. It takes trial and error.

3.    It’s a labor of love. No, just labor. Below minimum wage. The payoff is we don’t get Alzheimers as often. We keep the brain cells firing.

4.    We have to write. No, we don’t. Nobody is twisting our arm. Nobody holds a gun to our head. Readers aren’t waiting with open arms for our golden words. What we have to do is eat, keep a roof overhead, pay taxes. 

5.    There’s a “writer’s high.” Maybe a rush when the right words hit the page, a sentence that sings, a perfect paragraph. Want a high? Take drugs.

6.    Writing a book is like giving birth. Really? While you may bloat from eating crap for 9 months I seriously doubt there is as much pain unless the pages are expelled via your vagina. Men excluded.

7.    These are my children. Oh, do your manuscripts need to be fed and clothed? True, it sucks the life out of you. Yet, when it’s time to leave the nest and go to a publisher, you cling and hold back.

8.    Writer’s block? More like laziness. Excuses. Fear. Will I be able to finish the book? Will it be as great as I hear it in my head? Do I have talent? The mantra repeats until we have to block it out.

9.    You have to open a vein and bleed all over the page. That’s suicide and you’d be dead. Maybe you’ll become published posthumously. Probably not.

10. We live glamorous lives. Seriously? Is perpetually living in pajamas and slippers with endless cups of coffee, tea, diet soda (or booze) a lifestyle to aspire toward? Things go unattended like grooming, housework, bills, yardwork. We have insomnia with thoughts rumbling through our heads. In the wee hours plots and doubts decide to show up.

11. We make lots of money. Only if your name is Rowling, Crais, Evanovich, Patterson, Steel or any one of the 1%. The rest of us barely scratch out enough to keep us in printer paper and ink cartridges.

12. We make important contributions to the world. Then why hasn’t society caught on? Oh wait—they are too busy living productive lives. They have little time for our insights. They are Philistines who would rather watch Dr. Phil. 

What we do have is a community to commiserate with us. We recognize our kind, seek them out at conferences and online. We can tell the clueless beginners with stars in their eyes to jaded veterans who’ve had too many empty book signings. We’ve heard unrealistic expectations and Hollywood dreams and wait for reality to set in. We’ve finally admitted we are nothing special, just people who choose to be miserable.
But, we keep all that a secret. Instead, we smile at readers and try to charm them into being fans. We nod when friends tell us we’ll get on the best seller list someday. We tolerate disappointment from family members who think we should do something practical. Like make money.

We continue to ignore the odds, the pitfalls, the walls thrown up to stop us. We put one word behind another and fingers crossed it all makes sense. We continue to hope when it feels hopeless. Even if you agree with the above, chances are you’ll ignore the advice. After all, I write fiction.     


Charles Gramlich said...

Aye, we recognize our kind. A secret gang of outsiders, living on the fringes, in the shadows. Perhaps one day we'll rise together and overthrow the world order, create our own paradise.

But that's...another story.

Deborah Elliott-Upton said...

Alas, you speak the truth and yet, here we are still writing...that surely speaks volumes about us writers.

Sunny Frazier said...

Charles--Paradise? It's called a library.

Deborah--We are all collectively crazy. But, we're fun to hang around!

authorlindathorne said...

All very true. Maybe we are all a little crazy. I wrote a blog for Killers Nashville's blog last year titled, "My Writing Curse -- Ten Years and Counting."
The problem is it is so hard to give up on once you start. It's an addiction, a need, a hopeful dream. I actually don't know what it is, but if you start writing and get published, even when it's at a small level, it seems to draw you in to a whole other universe. Like I said, maybe we are all a little crazy. I know I can't walk away from it and I can't explain why I want it so much.

Cora said...

Sunny, your take on our writing careers is hilarious with that grain of truth. We are those misfits that find meaning in our process no matter how ridiculous or unfruitful our outcomes are.

Sunny Frazier said...

Cora, we remain pessimistically optimistic.

Patricia Gligor's Writers Forum said...

Sunny, as always, I admire and respect your honesty. And you made me laugh! You wrote what many (most?) of us really think but seldom admit. Well, except to other writers who are gluttons for punishment too. LOL

Unknown said...

Sunny, I'm very close to having my first book published. Just one ready to come out of that birth canal. One book, and I attest to all in this post. It's about as glamorous as doing the dishes after you've slaved to make a gourmet meal.

Tim Desmond said...

Quite a list. I liked #6, even though I'm a guy thing. A lot of myth has worn off me too over the past fifteen years, a lot of it embarrassing shit. But, a lot of these are not just writers' myths, but are what non-writers believe. Like the one quote you had at beginning, "How exciting." Most of us did and do believe we have something to say, some important story to tell. I guess that can be taken as either being important or very trite. The hard part is always being original, different, concrete, concise, entertaining, so that someone wants to read more. It's a tough art, and a tougher business.

Anonymous said...

Everything you said is true. As I sit here in the same outfit I've worn three days in a row with tea burning my tongue and the lunch dishes still in the sink, I think to myself, "But why do I love it so much?"

Liane Spicer said...

All truth, Sunny. I was saying this to an aspiring writer just a few days ago. If I had devoted all the time and effort to selling insurance (or selling empanadas, or washing cars) that I've put into writing, I'd be sitting pretty. But yes, there are compensations, one being the fellowship of other writing masochists.

Augie said...

Perhaps this is why I have a life outside of writing

Augie said...

Perhaps this is why I have a life outside of writing

Joyce Ann Brown said...

Sunny, there's a lot of truth in your article. But I still wish I'd started writing earlier and not waited until I'd finished being practical and responsible. I love it.

Sunny Frazier said...

I was writing very early, then in high school I got into journalism. In some ways, I still think of myself as a journalist. Great training!