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!”
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.