This morning I read Alice Bradley's very poignant post on writing and insecurity at the her gateway-drug-made-me-want-to-blog-blog, Finslippy.
I'm really happy Alice wrote about fear, because with her column in Redbook and her new book with Eden Kennedy coming out soon and her award-winning blog, it's quite possible we might be tempted to all hate her for her clearly effortless success.
Except that I don't know any writers who are effortlessly successful. Not one. I know some who have great connections, some who have been at the right place at the right time, some who have a natural voice that doesn't requires years of digging to find.
And of course I hate those people. KIDDING.
Sort of. If I'm honest, I'm very jealous of anyone who doesn't have to beg or prove and can just be.
Creative writing is so hard -- and I include narrative nonfiction in "creative writing" -- because it requires the writer to put herself out in the world for criticism in a different way than technical writing or journalism, for which you can fall back on technique and voice is actually a detriment.
And -- the rejection is tough. Just this past week, I was in a hospital gift shop and thought "I wonder if hospital gift shops would stock Sleep Is for the Weak?" So I hemmed and hawed over it (as I have been hemming and hawing every time I walk into an awesome boutique and don't see my little blue cover anywhere on its shelves) until Beloved was finally ready to kill me and made me promise to do something about it. On Monday, I googled a few local hospital gift shops and picked up the phone. As I plied bored store managers with my elevator pitch, I felt it growing in my gut -- the pleading feeling of please tell me I'm relevant. One woman said, "Well, I don't know that anyone would want to read that." Another asked about the minimum order. One woman clearly said I could send her a copy just to be nice. I hung up and cried.
Then I made myself write the letter, explain the book had won an award, include the praise from Redbook and Pregnancy & Newborn and Scholastic Parent & Child. See! My letter said. These people liked me! You should, too!
I pulled three of my last five copies -- that I bought with my own money -- off the bookshelf and stuffed each in an envelope with a thank-you note and the letter. When Beloved got home, I was done crying and handed him the packages to mail. "I did it," I said. And he smiled, because whether or not they decide to sell the book, the only way to guarantee they won't sell it is to not send the books out in the first place.
I know that truth, but I still hated doing it. I hated calling someone up and giving them the chance to tell me that I suck, that nobody's interested in what I have to say, that the book is so 2008 and what have I done lately?
I commented on Finslippy that after I put the first few paragraphs of my novel up in the writing group I moderate on BlogHer, I immediately doubted my voice and e-mailed a bunch of friends to ask if they, too, had doubts. I desperately wanted to hear that even writers way more successful than I feel that pit in their stomach as they stare at the submission spreadsheet and check off another "no." Do they have spreadsheets, I wonder? Does anyone in the world submit as much as me without success? Why am I even trying to write a novel when my picture book completely flopped? Why can't I just present only a flawless public face like everyone else I know? Why am I showing off my flaws? Why am I opening myself up to this shit?
Alice is right. This is not easy.