Mark Twain once said, “A classic is something that everyone wants to have read, but nobody wants to read.” As an author, I find the same can be said of writing: A book is something everyone wants to have written, but nobody wants to write.
This includes me. Half the time, I hate to write. It’s an act, to me, of exquisite masochism. It’s lonely, difficult, and often fruitless. The only reason I do it is because to not write feels even worse. Plus, let’s face it: it’s not exactly dangerous. Or back breaking.
The biggest annoyance, perhaps, is people’s misconceptions. As with any other art or sport, good writers make writing look effortless. And so people often believe that it is. And so while you’re tearing your hair out rewriting a manuscript for the forty-second fucking time – or struggling to land an agent—or losing sleep over the 20th rejection from a publisher, people come up to you at parties and say things like: “You’re a writer? Yeah? You the next J.K. Rowling?”
“Must be nice, breezing into work in your pajamas.”
“No kidding. You know, I was thinking of taking a few months off and writing a book myself.” (Oh, you’re a doctor? I’m always tempted to respond. Funny, I always thought of taking a few months off and practicing brain surgery.) People tend to believe that if you can talk, you can write: Heck, any idiot can publish a book! (Given some of the dreck that’s out there, this is sometimes unfortunately true.) They think we authors just sit down at our desk, wait for a lightning bolt of inspiration to strike, and tah-dah!
Once in a great while, this actually does happen. I sit down to write, and the words flow as if I’m speaking in tongues. But 90% of the time, they don’t. And on those rare occasions when they do, chances are I’m producing some world-class drivel.
So let me state, on behalf of writers everywhere: The reality of being a “glamorous” author is that, for years on end, we are not on book tours. For years on end, we are not being published. For years on end, we are sitting alone in a room somewhere, staring catatonically at a blinking cursor. We write and delete, write and rewrite, and the bulk of our efforts will never see print. We have no colleagues except for the relentless little voices in our heads that tell us one day that we are unsung literary geniuses, and the next day that we are total shit.
When we finally do publish, yes, we hold the book like a newborn in our amazed hands. But we don’t get to see people actually reading our work. We can’t follow folks home after they’ve left Barnes & Noble and hover over them as they sit in their armchairs, watching their reactions as they turn the pages.
I have spent years writing a book. But once it’s finally published, I can hope – and only hope – that people are enjoying it somewhere. In the end, writing is an enormous act of faith. It is the work of fools, addicts, and optimists. Because despite the lousy success rates, we writers keep at it, crazy and hopeful in our belief that maybe, just maybe, we have something worth saying – and maybe, just maybe, people will find it worth reading – and maybe, just maybe, the world will be better for this. Most of us are not J.K. Rowling. Most of us are monks.
So, want to help out a writer? It’s actually quite simple. Buy our books (Don’t brag to us when you get them for $2.99 on Ebay.) Shoot us a fan letter once in a while; praise out of the ether is like manna. Show up at our readings with your cell phones turned off. And above all else, don’t tell us flippantly that you’re thinking of taking a few months off and writing a book yourself.
About Susan Jane
Causes Susan Jane Gilman Supports
Doctors Without Borders, Southern Poverty Law Center, Planned Parenthood, Natural Resources Defense League, Joint Distribution Committee