A Woman Once Wrote in A Column:
“Hard days, lots of work, no money, too much silence. Nobody’s fault. You chose it.”—Bill Barich
At a conference, I’m approached by a woman who’d sat next to me while an author spoke about his writing life. She says, “I’m writing a novel!”
I say, “How exciting! Are you having fun with it?”
“There’s lots of intrigue and romantic situations, but it’s not a romance or mystery, and anyway…I want to ask what you think about my chances.”
“Chances for what?”
“For getting it published.”
“Well, I don’t know.” I smile my encouragement, ask, “Have you finished writing it?”
She taps her chin. “What kind of money do you think I’ll get? I need about one-hundred thousand to start.”
I blink. Blink again. “One hundred thousand dollars?”
She grins with fervent hope, says, “I don’t want to get too invested in it until I know for sure what I’ll make, and I figure that amount’s a good start, right?”
“Well, anything can happen, but—
“—look at Grisham, lives like a King, right?”
“Well, you should write it first; that’s the fun part.”
“I want to make sure I can quit my job.” She claps her hands together. “And then I can go on tour, stay in nice hotels, talk to people about how I came up with the idea. It’s so exciting to be a writer, isn’t it?”
Should I pop the sparkly bubble that hangs over her eager head? Tell her the truth? How she needs to actually write her novel, then revise it and revise it and revise it and revise it; and once this is accomplished, begin the query process—write a compelling letter to agents or small press publishers explaining why her novel is ten stories above all the one-story novel queries that are piled upon their desks? If an agent is acquired, then the agent must convince an editor to take it on, and the editor must convince the publisher to publish it (or if the small press publisher takes it on, they must convince their committee to accept it). Finally, if the publisher publishes it, the author will for the most part have to market the book herself, as publishing houses rarely foot the bill for a grand book tour.
Should I further mention how the author must prepare for financial disappointment? That unless one is catapulted to the best sellers list and Oprah’s Book Club and a big movie deal, money will not flood the bank, but instead trickle in languidly, or even eventually evaporate away if the work is not done to keep things fresh and alive?
Meanwhile, the author must glue her butt in the chair and write another book, one as good as or better than the last, and convince everyone the next book should be published. Sisyphus at last rolls the rock to the top of the hill, only to have to do it again and again.
Yet, this writing life is mine. I chose it. I write with the knowledge I may never be a financial success, much less a literary one. I write with love and care and commitment. John Steinbeck said, “You start out putting words down and there are three things—you, the pen, and the page. Then gradually the three things merge until they are one and you feel about the page as you do about your arm. Only you love it more than you love your arm.” Steinbeck has reached into my heart and pulled out the perfect words to describe this beautiful madness of mine.
I tell the woman, “I wish you all the best.”
She stops smiling. “That’s it?”
I level my gaze. “Except this, just write it. That’s where I’d start. Write the words you love, and the rest will work itself out one way or the other.”
She turns and walks away. I go to my room, open my laptop, and sit in silence, except for the musical tapping of my fingers against the keys. I stop a moment to wonder if she will write her novel and if it will give her everything she desires. I hope so. Then I get back to my work and forget everyone and everything but the creating.
(image google image: timetowrite.blogs.com)