Friday, August 15, 2008
The Cons of Making Writing A Profession
Last time I talked about all the great things that go along with making writing your profession. Today let's discuss the cons. Or maybe I should call them 'discomforts' since the word 'con' means against, and I would never try to turn anyone that wants to write for a living away from doing so.
As you might have gathered from my last post, when you make writing your profession, many unforgettable moments are likely to follow. I'll never forget the first time I received a letter from a reader after my debut novel BODY AND SOUL appeared on bookstore shelves. My husband and I were out running errands and we stopped by the post office. He went in while I sat in the car. Minutes later, Jeff came out waving an envelope, a huge smile on his face. "I think you might've just received some fan mail," he said. (He assumed this because the letter was addressed to "Jennifer" Archer, and I'm known as "Jenny" in my non-writing life.) The letter came all the way from Hawaii, and here's what it said: Dear Ms. Archer, I just finished reading BODY AND SOUL, and I wanted to tell you that it was just about...the stupidest book I've ever read. But maybe I just thought so because, before I started it, I read a wonderful book by Danielle Steele. OUCH!
Yes, my dear fellow writers and readers, writing professionally comes with a downside, too. A few jabs now and then. Some real ego busters. Anti-fan letters qualify, don't you agree? For some reason, the letter struck me as humorous, and I had a good laugh over it. I even sent the anti-fan a cover flat of my upcoming release, asked that she give it a chance to see if she liked it better than BODY AND SOUL. And I told her that since she took the time to tell me how much she hated my book, I hoped she had also taken the time to let Ms. Steele know how much she loved hers. Here are a few other discomforts that go along with "author-hood":
1. Deadlines that creep up on you when you aren't looking, and you find yourself in front of the computer for ten hour days only to discover when you write "The End" that your ankles are swollen from all the sitting. Oh, and there's the neck ache and the numb butt, too. Did I mention that?
2. You spend two or three hours at your booksigning with a smile plastered on your face, and when someone finally stops by your table, they only want to ask where the bathroom is located.
3. Loneliness. Being home alone all day, every day, with no outside stimulation or fellow workers to chat with on a break can make a person weird. After my first two months of staying home to write full time, I knew I was crossing over into looney territory when I left the house one early evening to go to dinner with my husband and friends and the world beyond my four walls seemed a little too loud and bright and unfamiliar. Yikes. After that, I made it a point to schedule frequent lunch dates with friends, and to write at the library or in coffee shops from time to time.
But I've found that the toughest thing of all about writing to sell is this...
4. Whether you pursue writing full time or part time, if you want to compose a wonderful story, you have to be willing to expose yourself, warts and all. To lay everything out on the page uncensored. Let me explain... My mom tells a story about when I was a little girl and she was getting dressed in her bedroom one morning. I was sitting on the bed talking to her at the time, and she was wearing only her underwear. I don't know if I noticed a frown on her face or if I heard her mutter something, but I must have sensed that she wasn't happy with what she saw in the mirror because I said to her sweetly, "Don't worry, Mom, you don't look fat when your clothes are on." (Please note that my mother had and still has a lovely figure!) That incident is, to me, a perfect analogy for the most difficult thing we have to face as writers -- we have to be willing to expose ourselves, to walk around with our clothes off in front of the world. We must pull off our girdles and let all the fat explode onto the page. Ugly thoughts, weaknesses, fears, feelings, emotions. Writers-- you must set aside your worries about what people might think of you after they read your words. Will they wonder if you share your characters' nasty habits? Their unorthodox beliefs? Maybe. Probably. I've struggled with this in the past, but no more. Today, my motto: What other people think about me is none of my business.
How about you writers out there--what issues do you struggle with because of your writing? And readers--do you wonder how much of the writer exists in the character? I'd love to hear your thoughts on this topic.