I read an interesting article about authors and the myths about them and it got me thinking. You see, I’ve believed those myths for the longest time. Things like, an established author has all the time in the world and would be more than happy to help an aspiring writer get a foot in the door. Or, published authors have an “in” with publishers/agents/editors and if I can just find one willing to read my magnificent work of art, they can help get it in the right hands.
You can read the entire article here. I caution you that it is not an easy read. It bursts a lot of dream bubbles which aspiring writers (I among them) have. If I had read this earlier on, I might not have believed it. I was so ready to believe that authors had it made, that life for them was a dream come true, just travelling, writing, and enjoying life while the rest of us slaved away in unsatisfying day jobs.
So what changed that? It wasn’t the fantastic event of getting published and waking up the next morning still in need of a day job. No, it was a couple of years before that…
It was a bright, sunny day and my parents and I were taking my uncle (visiting from Europe) to see Alcatraz. It just so happened that there was an author there signing copies of her autobiography. Naturally, my mom, being the helpful soul she is, decided I should talk to her, see if the author had some tips for a writer just starting out. So she bought a copy of the book and we stood in line to get it signed. When it came to be our turn, I handed the book over to the author while my mom pointed to me and proudly exclaimed, “She wants to be a writer too.” The author gave my naively smiling face a sour look, scoffed and muttered, “Don’t quit your day job.”
Sucker punch to the gut. Not that I was expecting her to take me aside and have a heart-to-heart with me (although that would have been nice) but the cold hearted disinterest she dismissed me with shocked me out of words. Sure, a young girl with dreams of being a writer probably didn’t even register on her radar as significant, but in my humble opinion, authors, celebrities, athletes, and anyone in the public light have a responsibility to each and every one of us mere mortals — because they are our idols. We look up to them, just as they no doubt at one point or another looked up to someone else. That is what they signed up for when they took the steps that brought them such fame. And even if they have to fake it, I believe there is no excuse whatsoever for scoffing at someone esle’s dreams just because they themselves have already achieved them and somehow believe this makes them better than everyone who hasn’t yet. Or, as I think was the case with this particular author, have been disillusioned by what they’d found beyond the rainbow.
As you can see, I feel pretty strongly about this. I was crushed by my encounter. But it also helped ground me in what little reality I am forced to endure while not writing. And as I have come to find out after I passed that much-dreamed-about finish line of getting published, there are some truths authors go to great lengths not to reveal because it tends to ruin the illusion of grandeur. I think that is a disservice to our readers.
Here are my personal truths. They are realities of my life as a person and a writer (a distinction which seems to exist without merit). I share them in good faith and welcome any comments or questions.
- Writing is like breathing to me. Whether I have a pen in my hand or not, there are stories constantly swirling around in my mind. I can choose to acknowledge them or not, but they don’t go away and I don’t want them to.
- It is possible to get burned out (I have discovered this just recently). To have so much going on for the sheer joy of getting it done that at some point you hit a brick wall and just cannot keep going. This usually necessitates a break.
- Writers are as much at the mercy of readers as they are publishers, editors, and reviewers. We create dreams. They are not always appreciated or understood. To a publisher, our dream is just one among hundreds, even thousands. It would be humanly impossible to devote much personal attention to any one writer. And I would be willing to bet that holds true even for most bestsellers out there.
- Because of the above, we have little to no leverage with publishers/editors/agents and probably could not do much to help a budding writer beyond putting a good word in. Which might or might not be heeded. This is not a reflection on the budding writer’s abilities, merely the reality of the publishing world.
- Writers do not make millions. Sad, but true. The vast majority probably manage royalty check to royalty check or, like me, hold down full- or part-time jobs. It’s not ideal. It’s stressful, frustrating, sometimes painful, and utterly exhausting to work at a job you might hate because it helps support your dream.
- Because of the above, writers also have very little spare time, which is usually devoted to things we need to do, like write, edit, promote, etc. Sleep is a good one, too. So if you ask an author to read your manuscript and they politely (or impolitely) refuse, this is probably why. There are only so many hours in the day and while the author might love to help you out, it’s just not possible to do everything at once. Believe me, I tried.
- Despite all of the above, writing is still the most rewarding, uplifting, joyful thing authors can do. The best ones write for themselves, because they know it’s impossible to gauge what readers like at any given time. A good book gets by on its own merits and even if it doesn’t, the satisfaction of having written it, of seeing their words on paper (or an e-Reader screen) is the reason why an author will pick up that pen again and keep right on going, despite bad reviews.
So there you have it. I know a number of people who want to get published. They are my friends and I love them dearly. I try to encourage them as much as I can because I have been in their shoes. I still am. There is no such thing as failure when you’re a writer — published or not. If one door closes, you crawl through a window, or find a ladder. The only flat-out wrong thing an author can do is give up on themselves because someone somewhere along the line told them they’re not worth their time.
Times are changing. Many publishers out there don’t require you to have an agent before they read your submission. There are plenty of avenues for authors to self-publish. It is sort of a mark of success for a publisher to say, “Yes! We want you!” but it would be a mistake to believe that is the only success you can have.
Make your own success. No one else can do it for you. Write the best you can, and then let it go out into the world. You’ve birthed a child. So what if it’s just on paper? It grows up, spits up on you, calls you names, but there are times when you snuggle up to it and sleep more soundly than any other night and you know deep inside it loves you as much as you love it, and if you want it to thrive, at some point you have to let it find its own way.
I think I’ve mixed one too many metaphors there LOL but you get my point.