When you’re first trying to be a published writer, you just want to be heard. How do I get people to read my stuff? You have that feeling, that "it" nagging you, so you talk about trying to get published. All you do is talk about it. I didn’t talk about it; I started a blog.
Location. Location. Location. That’s what it came down to for me. I needed a space to house all my thoughts and photos, a space I could access from work, home, a lackluster “this is all there is to do?” vacation. Chris hooked me up. “You so need to start a blog.”
I wrote daily; no one was reading it. Then instead of hitting reply to the “how was your weekend?” emails, I just sent ‘em a link. Here’s what I did, what I saw, and by the way, how craptacular I feel about my life. Cool.
I believed I had what it took to be a writer. I knew because writing was my gym. Some people get that pent up-not so fresh feeling-look on their faces when they haven’t been to the gym. They need to run. They need to eat. Cranky no mas. I become ornery when I don’t write. It’s my exhale, and when I do it, I lose track of time.
I knew I had what “it” takes, like a woman wearing leg warmers and a leotard, practicing the sheet music to A Chorus Line’s “Nothing.” I knew it from the bottom of my soul, and despite what anyone told me, I believed I’d be a writer. If only the right person would read “it.”
I wrote honestly, uncensored, without self-consciousness because whenever I’d read anything that moved me, I realized it was the truth the writer revealed that evoked such an emotional reaction. (Even now, posting this, I struggled. I had to honor the honesty written here, but I was afraid by posting this it was admitting some kind of success. I worried it would be seen as a self-indulgent and haughty effort at self-everything. But I followed by lead.) I wrote with my fingers crossed. Intermittently, I’d read reference books about submitting SASEs to a list of publications. Hell, I’d even buy the book, then flip it onto my night table. WTF? Why can’t these places take email submissions? I attended a class at the local Y about getting published. Damn, there’s certainly a lot of paperwork. I don’t even own a checkbook, and what’s a stamp for? I’m a mouse tomato; I never sent anything to anyone. It wasn’t fear of rejection; it was sloth. It’s the same reason I never send in rebates: you can’t do it via email.
London found my blog. That’s where it all began. Eventually, the most fantastic thing happened: my dream came true. The big one, the one I’ve wanted since I was on my elbows in the fourth grade dreaming it up. Holy gobstoppers! It came true, and along with the squeals of excitement comes a heavy cloak of red panic.
Having a dream come true is like coming into money—even when no money is involved—and you don’t want to pull an M.C. Hammer. You want to invest your luck properly, be conservative, despite being young, you want to hoard the moments and keep them. Terrified you’ll piss off the fate gods, you think before speaking, worried you’ll say the wrong thing and jinx things. You don’t know whom you can tell, or how much telling is an overindulgence.
I didn’t know what to fight for in a contract or which lawyer to sign. The one who charges two Manolo Blahnik’s an hour, or the one who charges much less at 6 bottles of Reserve Veuve Cliquot an hour? I picked off my new manicure. Is this really happening? Like, can I tell the cab driver? Is that safe? What if I whisper it? It will stay closer to me if I just whisper it. I don’t want to sound braggy, but I need to tell people. I can’t not tell people! I knew I should’ve been playing it cool, like I’d imagined I would if I ever came into good fortune. I fail miserably. How can I relax? I can’t even play hard to get on my dates, and now I have to be Cool Hand Luke when it comes to my life dream that only gets actualized once? I so don’t think so. I’m about to scream and notify the asshole who never called when he said he would, to tell everyone who ever shrugged when I’d confided my secret wish for myself, to inform each individual who told me, “nah, not interested.” But I didn’t because there’s something called humility. I was also vexed it would all be taken away, the way I imagine new parents of an adopted newborn feel in their first weeks as family. You don’t think your heart would be able to bear it. You remind yourself to breathe.
You take precaution with your hopes, trying to measure them and keep things neat and leveled. You’re used to calculating your MTBU. When you meet a guy who gives you the “this is its,” you remind yourself. You were perfectly happy before you met him; you’ll be happy again once this ends. Your pessimism doesn’t even shock you. You conjure clichés, “this too shall pass,” to prepare yourself for the moment when you awake to find your dream has been yanked back and the sun does not continue to rise! If the dream remains intact, you’ll soon have to face the nightmare critics, ghouls crouching in your shadows.
Then I heard, “well, keep your feet grounded.” And I’m like, what the hell does that mean? At the end of the day, with all the new and exciting things that will happen, I’ll still be picking up Linus turds and letting the kid lick up my nose. Why are people cautioning me with the word “grounded?” I’m terrified; the last thing I’m doing is getting ahead of myself. My fears are doing their best to keep me down. Have no fear.
Jennifer tells me my fate gods are like fear in that they hold me back. They don’t keep me from doing anything like fear does, but they keep me from “truly reveling and appreciating and taking in your happiness. Don’t be neurotic. Love life like you know you do!” Then we squeal together because she’s a true friend. True friends aren’t just there to commiserate and support you through the hard times (some people get high off counseling the wounded); they’re there to celebrate and bask in your successes.
When all the celebration is over, you come home, too terrified to do the one thing you considered your breathing. You’re afraid to write. Now that the piles of writing books on your bedside table are justified, you’re petrified you’ll fail at it. You won’t live up to the high expectations, even in your best heels. A few days go by, things sink in, and you’re over it, back to writing. But now you’re trying. I mean now it really counts. But you’re cautions and wary, worried “trying” is disparate from “doing.” You and your Dangerous Mind have been discovered, but it’s like first charming a teacher. You want to keep your A, and "darlin’ keeping an A is harder than earning an A."
So now that you’re a signed author, now that you can say, “I’m a writer” at a bar and mean it, now that you can hope they’ll ask if you’ve been published, you begin to revisit things. You reread. You start to believe everything you used to write is better. Your “used to” is worth more because then you weren’t trying so hard. Then you weren’t worried.
You were worried then though. You weren’t worried about word choice or sentence structure. Then all you wanted to do was move someone, touch them with your writing. You wanted to illicit an emotional reaction, but now you believe that’s not “writing;” that’s just a story. That’s where things get complicated. When we stop thinking of the story and fret instead about its telling. It’s the struggle you face when you’re only on your first lap. It’s writing puberty.
You focus on the pleasure it brings you to write. You begin to read more. Now there’s competition.
Sometimes I read things—Nabokov, Irving, Munro—and I shake my head. “Yeah, in my entire life, I’ll never be that good.” Then I read other things—I’m choosing not to share what I find wretched writing—and I’m like, “If that can get published, I certainly can.” But now it’s not about being published; it’s about feeling proud of my work, every single sentence. Every word selection and storytelling tactic magnified under a critical glass of assessment. I was born to do this; I won’t fail at it.
Then you can’t sleep. You’re addicted to the refresh button on Amazon’s Top Sellers list, eager to find your position in the lineup. You know when you awake the reviews will be out. A critic will tear you a new asshole, and you’ll weep, realizing not just your dreams but your nightmares came true. Your writing is only popular because of the subject. Your sentences are forced, and you and your life are unoriginal. Your work will be summarized into one laconic phrase: “She tries too hard and fails at that successfully.”
That will happen. Rejection happens to everyone. But I’ll keep writing because I’m not doing it for praise or condemnation. I’m doing it just for me, being true to myself and what I know I was put on this earth to do.