Sunday, June 07, 2009

... and nothing but the ...

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.


neve black said...

So eloquently stated.

I think all the air was just let out of my tires. haha.

Oh, to be blessed with this great desire to write, huh? :-)

Nice post.

Sage Vivant said...

What a shame that new writers are led to believe that with hard work, they will not only get published but will live well, have Hollywood knocking on their door for screen rights, and never have to prove themselves again once the world sees the genius of their work.

Quite the opposite is true, and thank you for posting about this.

The writing life seems to be viewed by society like marriage: both are fraught with problems, but the myth of bliss persists. Why? It somehow threatens something very precious to cast aspersions on either lifestyle. I don't get it!

polly said...

Yes, thank you for this. As a budding writer,still unpublished,and just starting out in middle age, I'm thinking, why didn't I do this years ago? You've said to me "have fun" and that's the very best advice.

So I'm not looking for fame, never was, can't think of anything more frightful. Money would be nice -- there's never enough of it, is there? But, hell, I manage.

I'm writing now,I guess, for the same reason as all of you -- because I can't not do it.

I'm learning. And it's trial and error. But ain't it grand, when you know, that in that one sentence, you just got it right!

Alana said...


Bravo, thank you.

Everything you just said here, my writing mentors in graduate school told me, and probably less kindly too. "No one gives a shit if you keep writing but you," was one thing I heard numerous times from a grad school mentor. Nothing has proven more true.

I've sacrificed a great deal to be a writer, primarily an income and a social life because if you're a single mom AND a writer, something has to give.

I wish I wasn't a writer. It sucks, it's hard, it's lonely. But, alas, I am. I am a writer. It's not even a choice anymore. Once upon a time, it was a choice, I made a choice to write. Now, it's just a dirty rotten habit. A life line. So, that trumps any and all so-called rewards, doesn't it?



Donna said...

Yep, all the depressing things you say are absolutely true! And yet I found this post immensely inspiring. It made me want to keep writing, and recently I've been having some doubts about that, lol.

Sage brings up an excellent point. The mythology around writing and marriage makes it into your fault if you don't find success, not the fault of the system/establishment. What a clever way to preserve the status quo! No one has to act like a decent human being, because the so-called success stories prove that talent is rewarded.

But hey, the Emperor IS naked!

Thanks so much for your courage in writing and posting.

EllaRegina said...

Thanks for that marvelous post! You've said it all.

Emerald said...

I found this so beautiful. Thank you so much.

Gina Marie said...

Oh, thank you so much! What a wonderful way to put it all out there. I hadn't thought of the bravery aspect before....soul-exposing yes, but the idea that it's brave rather than ridiculously foolish....makes me smile from the inside out.


P.S. Haven said...

Can only say: thanks. Sincerely.

M.Christian said...

Thank you all VERY, VERY MUCH! I really didn't expect my little rant to be so popular -- but I guess a lot of people, like me, were simply tired of the lies told about writers, and that writers tell other writers, while ignoring what I see as the wonderful truth: that what we do can be incredibly difficult -- and is remarkably courageous.

Take a bow, everyone! You deserve it and so much more.