“Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.” — William Wordsworth
Someone I’ve never met recently accused me (via, not surprisingly, an anonymous blog comment somewhere) of being a liar and a cynic because I lead monthly creative writing workshops. This person stated I was essentially conning people, making money by offering false hope to emerging writers who, my accuser went on to say, would never be paid a dime for their work because writers don’t get paid anymore.
The gentlemen seemed angry about so very many things (most of which I suspect had little to do with me). Of course, it’s clear Mr. Crankypants has never actually attended any of my workshops (I doubt he’s read any of my books, either), because if he had he would know I rarely talk about how to get published with my students. When I do it is only under duress and because I’ve been asked a direct question, and in answering I clearly say that if the only thing driving you to write is publication, you’ll probably be pretty miserable. Getting published is very hard, more so all the time, and frankly, it probably won’t live up to your fantasies anyway.
Of course, few people want to hear that, and even fewer believe me. Most emerging writers think if they’re published (WHEN they’re published) their lives will change for the better in dramatic ways. They imagine money, and fame, and perhaps being invited to fancy parties where the likes of Salman Rushdie and Joyce Carol Oates and Rick Moody stand around laughing at their jokes and refilling their champagne glasses.
Perhaps because the importance of celebrity has bloated to such alarming proportions in our society, such delusions are understandable, but let’s just be clear here — they’re delusions. I’ve written on this blog time and again about how little writers actually make, and how few people actually get published (even really, really talented writers who have been working at their craft for decades), and how psychosis-inducing an activity publishing is, and yet just about every week I get an email from someone asking me advice on how to find a publisher for the book they plan to write over the next couple of months. I find this terrifying.
However, it’s not nearly as terrifying as the man who wrote and told me he’d recently read somewhere that when I was working on a novel I wrote a minimum of 500 words a day (new words, that is, meaning the novel must GO FORWARD by 500 words a day). Thus, he estimated it took me about six months to write a book. He said he figured he could do that easily, and so had quit his job (I kid you not) and would be writing a book he expected to finish before the new year and could I please recommend a publisher.
I don’t mean to be discouraging to emerging writers, but I do think it’s important to be realistic. If you are talented and persistent you might very well publish. I hope you do. It really is a lovely bit of affirmation. However, you have to be all right even if you don’t publish. You have to be able to go on writing in the face of rejection. I remember once, years ago, listening to an interview with the actress Lisa Kudrow. She recalled a time when the television show, “Friends” was fairly new and she was walking down the street with Courtney Cox and Jennifer Aniston. In moment they were surrounded by fans, or at least Cox and Aniston were. Kudrow was more or less ignored. She said she felt a brief pang, and then thought, “Huh, this is interesting, and a great lesson. All the recognition is nice, but you can’t NEED it.” I thought that was very wise indeed, but not surprising for a woman who attended MIT before switching to acting. Perspective and balance will save your sanity, improve your life and, I believe, give you the confidence, regardless of other people’s opinions and approval/rejection, to continue writing.
Writers write. Some publish. But writers write. And if you’re a writer, what better way to spend your life than by, as Ray Bradbury said, staying “drunk on writing so that reality cannot destroy you.”