Dear Book Writer,
What is your profession? I’m dying to know. I will show up there and take over your clients. I will prescribe their pills or write their briefs or cobble their soles. I can slice and stitch with the best of them; after all, I took Home Ec.
Or maybe I should show up at your workplace and insist that you show me what you have learned to do over years, what you have paid to learn, and how to do it, free of charge? Or maybe I should laugh at you when you say that one must diagnose the disease before making the incision?
Here is how we writers become so: We spend years feeling tortured, true or not, and scribbling onto any scrap of paper that’s large enough for a word or two. We have journals. We have burned some of them. We have saved others. We have many half full, many overfull. Then we pursued writing-related tasks with vigor, fading into the background in school and work to observe, store up material, notice how people talk and act and are. We have been called odd snobs, different, dangerous, powerful. We have been taunted and less frequently heralded our “gifts” with the word. Our gift is obsession with the music of language, the ability to tune in.
We have read with quiet abandon. We have studied the written word, intentionally, osmotically, we find no greater joy than in the annals of another writer’s imagination. We have allowed others’ voices to inform, infuse our own. We have studied, studied, and continue to study the story, how it works, when it’s working, when it’s not. We have made our rookie mistakes in the privacy of our own rooms or in the semiprivacy of our educations, writing workshops, writers’ groups, families, friends, LiveJournals.
We do not insist that these mistakes be proffered publicly. We are not proud of them. We do not hear editors’ rejections or suggestions with scorn for gatekeepers. We thrive in rejection, we allow it to make us better, we recognize that we may never have success. We do not write for publication, we write for writing, for self, for art, for work, for pain, for pleasure, for sex. If we are published, of course we are pleased, but we do not begin with that in mind. We begin with the word in mind, the story, the sadness, the soul, the voices, the joy around us.
We do not begrudge you your desire to be heard. But we wish you would stop blabbing so loudly about how unfair the world that does not welcome your scribbling is. We wish you would remember how you toiled to learn your trade, the one that is not book writing. We wish you would stop believing that because you can speak you can write. We wish you would stop thinking of writing as a cash cow.
Please, write. Please do. There can never be enough writers. But before you fire up CreateSpace and start selling your print-on-demand for $24, read. And read again. And read until your eyes are dry and shrunken. Until you’ve read more books than anybody you know. Then write. And write long and hard. Until you’ve logged millions of words, tens of thousands of pages. And once you’ve done these things, you may be surprised how many of those pretentious, self-aggrandizing, gate keeping, nay saying, parade raining editors are willing to reconsider your work.