The title of this blog is the title of a recent Guardian article to which I, chuckling and sighing send you. I work with writers, I am a writer, I come from writers and I am married to a writer. I have often said that being published is a lot like not being published. This puzzles people who, as I once did, wander into bookstores, picking up enticing books, reading the cover flap, gazing at the photograph of that mysterious creature, the author, and wondering what it is like to be in that elite group, the published.
When a generous teacher at a two-week writing workshop gave me his agent’s address and insisted that I send her my short stories–I was twenty-one–I returned to sit on the twin bed in the small dorm room where I’d been staying, typing on a manual, non-electric Underwood someone lent me, and I thought, This is it. I’ve been discovered. Life will never be the same again. I surveyed the people I knew. These would remain my true friends, the ones who’d loved me before fame and glory descended. These would be the ones I could trust.
Much as I’d once imagined Sting appearing at my junior high and walking with me through the grounds, thus revealing my essential worth to certain cruel or oblivious people, I now imagined the transformation to come. I went to the payphone in the hallway (just to offer some carbon-dating) and called my mother and then my boyfriend. They each wanted to know if this particular teacher wanted to sleep with me.
Since we were both leaving the state that day and had just said good-bye, I assured them that his mysterious beneficence was not driven by lust but by a genuine belief in my talent. I hung up discouraged by their lack of faith and tried to drift back to my fantasies of fame.
Needless to say, I still meet people everyday who are not only able to see the real me in the face of my fame and glory but who, even squinting and peering, cannot find a trace of the glitter I’d imagined trailing behind me wherever I went. Wanting to be published and being published have a lot in common . . .
What’s surprised me is that even writers I consider much more successful struggle with a sense of languishing in obscurity. I remember about fifteen years ago, Ethan Canin pointing out that the most famous writer in America–he suggested John Updike–could have a conversation on an airplane that began with full introductions, moved on to “What do you do?” and ended with, “Anything I’ve heard of?” Answer in the negative.
I can only hope that wherever John Updike is now, there are delighted readers all around . . .
This is not, however, a lament. Writers are the most generous, wonderful people I know. (Writers being a subset of that category of glorious beings known as readers.) And I intend to make it my business to bouy them up in rough seas. Here is the focus of my coaching and editing:
Momentum. Mastery. Marketing.
When you need one great reader and then thousands . . . .
This is my direction. In the meanwhile, referring back to the article in the Guardian and the title of this blog, let me suggest–as a writer, as an editor, as a parent–that many of the greatest aspects of life are both joy and chore.
Even junior high could be heavenly with Sting at your side. And even writing and even, yes, even marketing your writing, can be a thrill with the right kind of support and a solid plan.