When Huntington told me today's blog topic was "Writing for Free," I thought, "Can't we do something less controversial...like the death penalty?" Or how about Congress? Maybe a discussion on Coy and Lance Duke on The Dukes of Hazard, they were just dandy replacements for Bo and Luke?" No? Sigh. Okay, here we go.
I've been paid for my writing and not paid. I'll be the first one to admit, being paid is great. But every time I've been published I've learned something new, or it's come at the right time. And that is worth its weight in gold.
I started getting published in high school. My high school creative writing class produced a 'zine of our stuff, courtesy of Joyce Graber, the woman in charge of the photocopier. It was such a rush, seeing my work with other stuff, getting along with others. I submitted to my community college lit magazine, and although hearing a honest critique of my story wasn't fun, it made me roll up my sleeves and say I'll show them. In this case, revenge was better than money.
In 1999 I started getting published on a regular basis. This was when ezines were pretty new, so I decided to try it, see what happened. My first published piece was a poem I wrote for my cousin Sericea. It was amazing, seeing it there—and it was mine. All mine. People sent me congratulations notes, and I thought I'm on my way.
The second piece was, again, for revenge. It was a story about a young girl who was obsessed with Beth and Lujack on Guiding Light. Yes, total fiction! I was doing an online workshop where people ripped it apart. I revised it three times in a month, then submitted it to an ezine. It was published a week later with the title "There Are Kissing" taken from a Dorianne Laux poem. Dorianne, Beth and Lujack together at last! In your face, people who just thought it was a summary of Guiding Light!
I published in ezines, then went old school and did newspapers. I submitted a story about John F. Kennedy Junior around the fifth anniversary of his death. I mentioned a high school teacher of mine Ms. Burt. No money, but I got a phone call from Ms. Burt delighted to see her name in print. Again, this amazed me.
I had an essay published in The San Francisco Chronicle. The morning it ran, I woke up at five, threw on clothes, and then ran down to Safeway. Bought several copies, and saw my essay in the paper that published Herb Caen, Adair Lara, Pat Montandon, and Armistead Maupin. Throughout the day, people left me congratulations notes on my Facebook wall. My father went to Walgreens, bought five copies, then said "My daughter has an essay here."
I'm not going to deny it: being paid for my writing feels good. Oh hell, it's great. But what means more is the accomplishment. My first year at Mills College, I seriously thought about leaving. I was having trouble with meeting the qualitative reasoning requirement, my writing was getting ripped apart in workshops, and I was so so broke. I kept on hearing what a counselor said to me in my head: Not all people are meant to go to college. Then I received an email saying that a short story I wrote placed second in the annual fiction contest. Also, I won first place for the Children's/YA contest. The prizes came up to $100.00. But what was priceless was the knowledge that I knew I was supposed to be in
college, I was in the right place in the right time.
After I graduated,I read Mills alum Ariel Gore's How To Be A Famous Writer Before You Die. She recommended blogging to start being famous. Okay, you might get paid. But you can get your work out there in the world without waiting and waiting to have some editor read your stuff from the slush pile. I started blogging. Within seven months, I won two contests, had dinner with Terry McMillan and Phil Bronstein (plus Ivory and Abe), then was offered a job here at Red Room. I never would've done this if I hadn't started blogging.
Now if I was told a publisher would publish my book but not pay me money, I would say no. Give me some credit. Yet what I've realized throughout my writing life is that Lilias Folan was right when she said "The joy is in the journey" Or as Cavafy said in his poem "Ithaka," "...hope your journey is a long one." My writing life is a joyous journey, and I know it will be long and wide.
Causes Jennifer Gibbons Supports
Gilda's Club, Greenpeace, Rosie's Broadway Kids,Westwind Foster Family Agency, Amber Brown Fund, Linda Duncan Fund for Contra Costa Libraries