Here's a 'fun' little piece I wrote to vent a bit about what it really means to be a writer ....
I’ve pretty much always wanted to be a writer but it’s only recently I’ve wanted to, well, be honest about what it really means to be a writer.
It’s not that the “How To” books, teachers, and especially writers really lied to me but after I finally stepped into the world of professional writing after ten long years of struggling I realized I had been unprepared for what it was really like.
After another ten years as a ‘pro’ I’ve come to realize some essential truths about being a writer, truths I wish I’d known before working all those years to get my work in print.
The first, and for some folks the biggest, reality check is that you’ll never be rich. In fact you’ll never be able to make a living – and even if you manage to do it for a while it won’t last very long. Insult to injury, it can even work against you getting a regular job: try explaining a six-month, or year-long, gap in your resume because you were trying to live as a writer. No employer wants to hire someone just biding their time until their dream comes true – especially if it never does.
The second is that you’ll never be famous: your book will never be an Oprah Book Club selection, you’ll never be interviewed on NPR, nothing you do will be made into a movie, you won’t be reviewed in the New Yorker, and people won’t ask for your autograph. You want fame? Then get on American Idol and sing … very, very badly. Even then you’ll only have your Andy Warhol fifteen minutes.
The third is that you’ll never get any respect. Friends won’t read your books, spouses will only read them because they have to, and if you tell anyone you’re a writer their eyes will glaze over for a minute and then they’ll ask you if you saw the latest reality show last night. You’ll get even less consideration from people in the ‘industry.’ if you can even get a reviewer to read your work, they're more likely to trash it than praise it because most are frustrated writers eager to show readers how "insightful" they are. Other writers will either arrogantly ignore you or speak ill of you or your work out of jealousy. Agents, publishers, and editors won’t answer your queries or if they do they’ll make it very clear that you’re not important to them – and never will be.
I’m not deaf. I can hear all of you very clearly: "But my last book made a bucket of money." "But I’ve got oodles of ‘friends’ on MySpace." "But my agent is wonderful!" … but … but … but … maybe you’re right, but you’re also completely wrong.
I’ve personally had some great experiences, some marvelous experiences, some fantastic experiences as a writer: decent royalty checks, fan letters from out of the blue, rave reviews, supportive friends, kind and conscientious editors, publishers, and agents, but they are rare exceptions. For every one of these positives there have been dozens, if not hundreds, of negatives.
But there’s another thing I wish I’d known before I set out to become a writer. It's something that, alas, I still work very hard to remember when one of those negatives crosses my desk or pops into my email box (or doesn’t, as the case may be). It’s something I wish I could tell every writer, and get everyone, everywhere, who deals with writers in any capacity, to understand as well.
Writers are brave.
Actually, that’s not quite right. Oh it’s accurate all right but it’s a little short of reality. It’s better to say writers are incredibly brave.
Every time we write we’re reaching back into our minds, our souls, our dreams, our fantasies to then throw what we craft out into an uncaring and cruel world. We do it all by ourselves, without help – or much help -- from anyone. We risk more with each story, each novel, than most people do in an entire lifetime and, what’s even more courageous is that we keep doing it, over and over, after each kick in the balls … or teeth, if you want to be less sexist.
We do it when the money doesn’t come, we do it when the fame doesn’t come, and we do it when the respect isn’t there. If that’s not bravery then I don’t know what is.
That’s the message I really wish I’d gotten when I was first starting out, that I now wish someone would tell all writers, budding or otherwise. Yes, I wish I could have told myself that being a writer would be a profitless, thankless, frustrating, demeaning, and depressing undertaking – but I also wish I could have heard that no matter what happens, or more than likely what doesn’t happen, I’d be doing something remarkably brave.
And that deserves tremendous respect and admiration -- even if it only comes from yourself.
Actually, again, that’s not quite right. It’s much more accurate to say especially if it comes from yourself.