again. Even though I know it wasn’t meant for me, personally. Let’s face it, I’m a complete unknown–which is kind of my point.
Earlier this morning I was going about my usual morning procrastinations, checking out Facebook, Twitter, etc, and I came across a link to this piece in the NY Times Book Review/bookends. I know this is a rant I’ve indulged in many times, but aaaargh! First let me say I haven’t read the original Lionel Shriver essay referenced, where she apparently wrote about feeling nostalgic for her previous commercial failure. Mmm hmm. I adore her work and believe she is truly a brilliant writer. Frankly, I’m pretty sure if I read her essay I’m never going to be able to read her fiction with an open mind again. At the moment I’m wishing I didn’t click the link and read what I did.
Francine Prose and Mohsin Hamid each respond to this question of author success, the pros and cons. Of course there are benefits and disadvantages, as there are to every choice, every person’s life/lifestyle/career. Both Ms. Prose and Mr. Hamid are successful authors, and it was Mr. Hamid’s (who for the record, has achieved both commercial and critical success) closing statement that has me pacing and ranting at my dogs.
“It’s a radical thought, but I wonder whether in some way we professional fiction writers might be better off if, like poets of old, we were to make nothing from our writing and had to earn our living elsewhere. Radical or not, it’s how most writers actually live today, working their day jobs, and writing — unpaid, alone, with passion — at night.”
Maybe my reaction is because I’m not part of that lovely “we.” I’ve yet to be paid for any of my words, therefore I am not a professional fiction writer. But I make no secret of the fact that I want to be, and won’t accept being shamed for it. If you want me to, I’ll admit to being a calculating bitch who wants my words to be read and I want to earn a dollar for them.
How unfortunate that my calculations are off. If they weren’t, I’d be part of the we, one of the published, one of the eek! successful.
What was I doing before screwing around online and reading this link? Obsessing, again, about when I might hear back from agents, and debating with myself about whether or not I’m doing the right thing by holding off on sending more queries until I do. Because I would like to receive an offer of representation, and I would like to be published. I’ll even go so far as to say I dream of being well published, and having my novel be well received. That dirty whisper of success.
I am not the voice of the unpublished everywhere. There are people who say they write solely for themselves, the work is enough, and if they’re never published they’re ok with that. Though I can’t relate to those thoughts, I accept them at face value. But they aren’t my thoughts. As I’ve said many, many times before, I write to be read. When I write, yes, I write the story as I see it, the characters as I imagine them, but I write with readers in mind, thinking about which words might be most appealing, which images will make sense to readers other than myself.
I do appreciate Mr. Hamid’s statements about commercial success involving luck. I read no hint of dismissal or condescension in this, the talent and skill have to be present for any writer to be in a position to receive such luck, but yes, it’s a part of “big” success.
No doubt, there is a certain luxury in the process of writing without contracts or deadlines or expectations. If other areas of my life are extra busy–hell, if I don’t feel like it! I don’t actually have to produce any words. And I’ll go further, at this moment, I don’t have to think about bad reviews on Goodreads, or worry about what my children’s teachers–or my children–will think of me, personally, when/if they read my work. That isn’t nothing, negative reviews and sometimes personal attacks are hurtful, even if you’re cashing a check. From my limited view of the world and the publishing industry, would I trade these luxuries for a few readers and a contract? Absolutely. Am I crass for admitting this? Maybe I’m just not that deep.
When Man Child talks about becoming a chef, and I see him busting his butt putting hours of hard, sweaty labor into it–not just cooking, but learning about other cultures, becoming fluent in other languages, and learning the business skills necessary, I don’t pat him on the head and tell him how wonderful it is that he can cook his own dinner. And no one else responds to him by saying hey, maybe one day you can be a fry cook at McDonald’s.
The reality is that very, very few of those who attain publication will achieve such success that any of this is even a question. As quoted above, not many published authors get to “quit the day job.” No one argues this, not me, not Mr. Hamid, not anyone with any remote connection to the publishing industry. I know this is the reality, but when I dream, that’s what I dream of, not nobly burning my pages for warmth and starving in a garret.