One of the first pieces of advice I received as a writer was, “don’t tell anyone you’re a writer,” this person said, “unless you actually get paid for it.”
I thought this was a great idea, because as soon as you tell someone you’re a writer, they start asking questions.
Wow. A writer? Really?
They are clearly impressed.
Well what kind of stuff do you write?
You’ve piqued their interest. They want to know more. You answer:
I have a blog and I write about my horses, my family, and writing. And I have a few articles published online.
You realize they are unimpressed – you pull out the big guns. You confess:
And…I’m working on a book.
They perk up again.
Oh yeah, what’s it about?
You tell them that it’s a middle-grade fantasy adventure, set partly in this world and partly in a magical world.
Their faces belie the thought going through their head: a children’s book?
So you decide, well, you’ve already lost them, why not keep going? You throw in:
Oh, yeah, there’s a Unicorn it it, too. And fairies.
Then they give you that face, without even thinking of it. That Oh-my-god-did-she-just-say-she’s writing-a-book-about-Unicorns?
The kind of face I have when my uncle talks about aliens.
You’ve lost them, and now they are trying to think of ways to get out of the conversation. They nod, smile, wish you good luck, and they’re on their way.
Basically people aren’t impressed with the fact that you write unless you make a living as a writer.
Problem is, it’s kind of a hard thing to get into. The ultimate Catch 22: You can’t make a living as a writer without first writing for free (i.e., working on a manuscript before you can sell it), but while you are writing for free, you aren’t really considered a “writer.”
It takes a lot of time and a lot of work, and if you aren’t currently being paid for it, that means you are unemployed. OR, if you are employed, you are probably doing something like stocking magazines, or working in a laundry or waiting tables, or whatever, then coming home and taking care of your family, cooking dinner, doing laundry, driving kids to soccer practice, all the while daydreaming about what your characters are doing in that scene that you might be able to get to if you wake up an hour early tomorrow morning.
But if you are lucky enough to quit your day job for a couple of months, others in your life will assume you have all this time on your hands because:
You Don’t Do Anything All Day.
And then, because you “don’t work,” you will get all of the extra side-chores to do, like getting that thingamabob fixed and calling the plumber and oh, yeah, can you (Fill in the Blank) for me??
And then when you’re not there they say to each other:
She calls herself a writer. She hasn’t written anything!
What she really needs to do is go get her hair done.
Yeah, or update her wardrobe.
Is she gaining weight?
Are people even buying books anymore?
Or some such drivel. (It’s not that you’re paranoid, it’s just you’ve heard them talk before. Or maybe you are paranoid. Either way.)
Either way, I really didn’t talk much about my writing, and then when I did, I let others make me feel ashamed for doing something so impractical.
That was my mistake. Then for whatever reason, I just started owning it. I’m a writer. I write things. I hope to one day get paid for it, but for now I consider this as me building my resume.
And, yes, here’s the horrible, shameful, awful truth:
I have been working on my book for FOUR YEARS. Four years. God, I hate to say it. I’m truly embarrassed to admit it. I’m even thinking twice about revealing the truth as I type this. But I’m trying this new thing where I’m just open and honest. It’s hard, because I’m so afraid of being judged–but I’m also sick of trying to make everyone on the planet happy except me.
And, I like it when people are open and honest, even when it’s horribly embarrassing. I LOVE this scene from Love Actually, and wish more people would be this candid:
Everything else in my life, I have quit before I accomplished what I’d wanted to. And every time I think it would be easier if I just left this book in a drawer, I can’t. I can’t quit. I don’t care if I don’t finish it until I’m 85, I will keep writing this story until it’s done. I don’t even care if it’s a piece of crap. Then I will just start revising.
Do I think I’m writing the great American teen novel, and that I will have Rowlings-esque leagues of fans clamoring for autographs?
No, But I do know that I’m following the 2nd piece of writing advice I ever got:
Write the book you wish existed.
I mean, somewhere along the line, someone had to tell Stephanie Meyers she was crazy for writing about young vampires in love.
I would have read this book (my book, I mean) when I was in this place. The place between being a kid and being a teen. Ready for listening in on adult conversations, for making your own decisions, and ready for that first kiss. For adventure.
But I like my magic a little more like the Renaissance Fair than Tales From the Crypt. I was scared to shit of Dracula when I was a kid. There’s no way I would have read a book about vampires.
And I know there are tons of other readers out there who prefer their magic on the “happy” side. (Ever heard of Bronies??)
And dude, seriously, when was the last time you heard someone say:
“I HATE UNICORNS!”
You haven’t, because
When I finish my book I’ll send NPH a signed copy. Hopefully he’ll still be alive by then.
Meanwhile, I will be working on my book (and going back to school, but more on that later).
Some thoughts that keep me positive and motivated:
- It took JK Rowling 7 years to write Harry Potter.
- It took JRR Tolkien 12 years to write The Lord of the Rings.
- It took Jane Austen 16 years to write Pride and Prejudice.
Not that I’m comparing myself or my story to these fine people and their timeless books!
It just makes me feel a little better.
But that doesn’t answer the question – why do I write?
I can’t help it. I get so many ideas in my head that if I didn’t get them out, I think it would explode. That and the fact that I think everyone needs to hear what I have to say because I’m so farging brilliant. So here I am, slaving away, creating the miracle of literature, bestowing upon you the gift that is my genius.
More Unicorn love HERE.
So why is my book still unfinished? I went back to college.