When I was in that stage of adolescence when you may (if not in angsty despair) daydream longingly about being famous someday so people will admire you and you’ll have tons of friends and all the people who think are being nasty to you now will be stricken with either remorse or envy (or maybe both)….yeah, I did that. Never mind that I wasn’t about to DO anything to prepare for such a situation (like, maybe, consider how to deal with it if it happened, or pick some likely scenario for achieving said “fame”) but I was sure that *someday* my light would shine and all those people (like her, and her, and him, and them…) would realize they’d missed their chance to get in on the ground floor.
Another thing is that when you are in that stage of adolescence, filled with awareness of your own pain and looking for a place to dump it, you don’t realize that the people you’re daydreaming about playing “if they could see me now” with are also playing the same set of fantasy games using you as one of the people they want to impress someday. “She thinks she’s so smart, well, *I* will have my doctorate!” or “He thinks he’s so great because his daddy has a car agency–I will have a whole corporation and sit at the top of the tower with windows bigger than anybody’s.” In a few years you realize that everyone is the protagonist of their own story, and you’re not as wildly different as you thought (and maybe they thought too) and the intensity of the desire for fame as fame erodes (or doesn’t) as you reach adulthood and Real Life (tm.)
By the time I had written some books and gotten published, I was over that. I thought. It had been years–decades–since I expected any recognition for anything I did. I was a middling alto in a good alto section–strong, reliable, but not exceptional in any way. I was a decent graduate student but not a standout. Then we moved here, and I joined the local EMS and became, by stages, an EMT-paramedic, and I was good at it, but again, not the best. I knew the odds in publishing long before I had publishing credits; I looked at my skills and thought I was good enough to get published, but no longer expected the daydream of world acclaim, great reviews, major prizes like the writers we studied in English class, that I’d clung to in junior high and part of high school. I was a plodder, a workhorse, someone who could get the job done, but without the glam and glitter that takes someone from “Oh, yeah, I remember her/him…they wrote books or something didn’t they? Or was it they invented something?”
Like most writers, I passed some other writers who had less success, as measured by reviews, the advances on contracts, and so on, and was passed by other writers who had more. Like most writers, I faced the green-eyed monster of WriterEnvy, who points out that so-and-so who just got a seven figure contract or a movie deal or whatever is really no better at the *craft* of writing than you are, and wants to make you dislike/hate/waste time muttering about that person instead of just doing your own work and making it better as you can.
But then I discovered the thing that no one told me about, but that’s shriveled that green-eyed monster all the way to dust. The recognition that’s not fame, not glitzy or glamorous or involved with headlines or interviews on TV or movie deals…a different kind, that feeds the writer’s soul and instead of inflating the ego, inflates gratitude. And that’s the recognition that comes from someone who has no intent to flatter, but just wants to tell you how your work affected them, how it made a bad day, or experience, or situation better…how they held onto that story or book, coming to it again and again for refreshment, for courage, for inspiration. And there is nothing–no amount of money, no prize–that will both build up and bring down a writer like that. It’s the ultimate proof that you got it right that time. It makes the days in front of the keyboard (or however you write), the aching back, the sore butt, the stiff neck, the burning eyes, all worth it because someone, somewhere found a hand that pulled them out of a sucking mudhole of despair.
Some books pulled me through hard times. Some passages in those books still echo inside. They weren’t all great books. They weren’t all good all the way through. But from them I got nourishment, strength, that I needed right then and wasn’t getting anywhere else. And no, I didn’t write those authors because I was too timid. I didn’t want to bother them. (I’m sorry, I think to their memories…I’d been taught not to bother people. and figured I’d be a bother to you, too.)
So here’s the thing, if you’re an early -career writer, or someone who hasn’t started submitting yet and wonders if it’s worthwhile to write if you don’t find recognition from reviewers, critics, juries for the big prizes, and your publishers in the form of very large checks with many zeros. That’s not all the reward there is. That’s not even the best, not even the BIG checks and the fame that means total strangers recognize your face as you walk through an airport. There’s still recognition you may treasure when someone tells you (in person, or email, or snail-mail) that something you wrote pulled them through a hard time. It may be a minor part of your book–one incident, one phrase even–or it may be a character, or a setting. You cannot know when you’re writing what will be the handhold someone needs. It’s scary to start off on the long journey of writing not knowing if you’re going to save a life (as we did not know, opening the door for the ambulance to come out, if we would save a life that time or not.) It seems, I’m sure, such a tiny little hope to balance the amount of work you’ve come to realize is needed.
But it’s there. And it’s a treasure that doesn’t fade like the review, or the critic’s assessment, or vanish into bread and electricity and taxes like the amount on a check. It’s the true gold, imperishable, and once you’ve had one…you know it’s worth it. Oh, you may still be seduced by other measures of success, if you can get them, but if you get another…and another…of those golden nuggets, you’ll begin to realize how valuable they are, compared to the rest. Years later, when your income drops again (and writers’ incomes go up and down like badly played yo-yos) and your editor and your agent are sighing and far less interested than they used to be (if that happens)…that golden recognition will still be there. Your work helped someone you didn’t know. That’s on your celestial resume.
(mirrored from Paksworld blog)