Not long ago, I was out with some writer friends and we got into a discussion about publishing. One friend talked about how he’d been pushed into submitting a story before he was ready to submit, and it had been accepted, and while he was excited and told everyone, it now embarrasses him to have that story out there, in print, attached to his name.
I listened and I sympathized and in the back of my mind I thought to myself, I wish I had your problems.
When you are unpublished, it’s hard to convince yourself that you are a “real” writer. You can go all over the internet and be told that a real writer is someone who writes, but somewhere at the back of your mind you think to yourself, I am not a real writer because of the following conversation:
Them: So, what do you do? (for a living, for fun, etc)
You: I’m a writer.
Them: How interesting! Have you published anything?
You: Uh… no…
Them, in thought: Loser.
A friend of mine points out that no one judges painters by whether or not they’ve sold anything. It’s a good point. I also paint, and the fact that my work has never made it past hanging in my living room doesn’t seem to phase anyone. No one asks me about my gallery showings or sales, which is fortunate because I have none, unless you count the oil pastel drawing of a tulip that made it into my 4th grade art fair. (Only my mother counts this.) More to the point, it doesn’t lessen the pleasure of painting for me either.
Yet, with writing, it’s hard. You put time and craft and care and a little bit of your soul into a piece, and then if you can work up the courage you send it out there. Then you get a form letter back saying sorry, your time and craft and care and soul are not good enough. If you are lucky, you get a little bit of feedback. If you are very lucky, it’s even helpful, but more often it is something along the lines of “We like this, but no.” (Is that like it’s not you, it’s me? In fact, it is.)
The thing is, publication does not change feeling like a loser.
I very recently had my very first piece accepted for publication. Friends of mine are thrilled for me. My reaction is a lot different than I thought it would be, for a few reasons:
- It’s microfiction. I’m not knocking microfiction because it’s hard to tell a compelling story in a tiny amount of space. But what sounds more loser-ish in that conversation in my head? Here’s my book, or here’s my paragraph?
- Who reads microfiction, aside from other writers? And who publishes microfiction, aside from other writers? That imaginary ‘Them’ in my head not only thinks I’m a loser, but now thinks I am a pretentious loser.
- I didn’t get paid. I wasn’t expecting to get paid, and given the strained resources of any venue publishing literary fiction, getting paid is a bonus rather than an expectation. But ‘Them’ looks at me, and says, ah… broke, pretentious loser. Hope you didn’t quit your day job.
(I bet someone out there is reading this and thinking, I wish I had your problems.)
Don’t get my wrong, I am happy. I was so excited when I got the email that I used 3 exclamation points in my reply. I feel like I have reached a milestone.
But there are so many things I thought I would do once I was published and could safely think of myself as a “real” writer, and I’ve slowly realized that there was no reason I couldn’t do that. One of those things was call myself a real writer. I started doing that before I even submitted this piece.
What I have discovered is that there is no magic step you reach that lets you sit back and say, ah, I have definitive proof that I am not some loser with delusions of writing. I’m legit. I have bona fides. I am a Writer.
Even if you get that book published, ‘Them’ still says, Hmmm… never heard of it. Loser.
(You can comfort yourself by saying ‘Them’ considers 50 Shades of Gray good writing but hasn’t actually read it because they are waiting for the movie; you made this person up in your head, you can decide these things about them. Also, ‘them’ wears a bad toupee.)
You are a writer because you write. You are a real writer because you really write. You dream, you imagine, you think and you put words down on paper. You are a writer.