Recognition

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)

12 thoughts on “Recognition

  1. Yes. You may add me to the long list of those who have been helped by your work. Times of pain, stress, and grief come to all of us. Your stories have helped and inspired me in those times, giving both a moment of respite and the will to continue on. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.

  2. I am glad that I have given you a golden nugget or two, it seems little enough against the pleasure and the comfort you have given me over the years. One of the reasons I did is having that same regret you mention because of leaving it too late for some much loved writers. Of course it is much easier these days, by the time I worked out that I could probably write care of an author’s publisher it was too late.

  3. Your comments above apply to just about any endeavor people become involved in these days. I’m not a writer but I can write. I learned English in a small four room school house with eight grades, which was an experience all its own. Regardless of what area a person becomes involved in to either earn their keep or just for the enjoyment, your words are well worth considering and figuring out how to apply them to your current phase in life. Just like the books a person chooses to read and learn about life, we can improve ourselves just by applying some of the same skills the characters use to improve themselves.
    Good thoughts for the day. Enjoy your holidays! 😀

  4. Dear Lady – I was 43 when the first Paks book came out – I was intrigued by the blurb on the back of the book – and I never looked back. I may not have liked all of the books or portions of them, but that is my own view.

    Now that I am 72, I have to say that while your books have not saved my life – stopping a bullet for example – they have provided me with many many hours of enjoyable reading. They have also provided me with much food for thought from Paks dilemma in the dungeon to Ky’s difficult love life. I found the books worth reading AND rereading and even today I find myself starting with Paks leaving the farm and following along till Dorrin gets on her horse and riding away. From Herris Seranno boarding the Sweet Delight to the singing of the song to remember those lost. From Ky leaving the academy to her frozen adventure. With a few other works thrown in – the elderly lady on her own and the young man who wanted to go into space.

    I have to thank you for all of them. And it is a real privilege to do so while you are still around. I read a lot of books – especially from Gutenberg – and most of the authors are deceased.

    As long as we both are around I will appreciate the insights you provide in your blogs and the feedback I have been able to provide to you.

    As Spock would say: Live long and prosper.

    Jonathan up here in New Hampshire.

    1. What Jonathon says! He says it so well.
      I’m lucky to have not had such difficult times but I have certainly enjoyed escaping into books (still do) and yours are among those that I return to regularly, re-read passages that still bring tears to my eyes reading the now yellowed paged.
      If a book makes me tear up when recovered (often tears of happiness/relief when a character recovers) I feel a sense of renewal in myself. No I may not have directly gone through that bad agony, but vicariously I did and the renewal feeling is real.

      Thanks

      Gareth
      (Near London UK)

  5. Hopefully, you’ll see a spike in both soft and hard gold returns as I put in a good plug for Paks on a F…B… page where people were looking for this kind of inspiration.

    Hopefully not all the hard trade will be on the secondary market, though, as you have so eloquently stated, that’s not the most lasting. You do have a rental house to finish getting ready for your son so primary sales are good too.

  6. Well, there was the time of course, when my husband was working himself half to death on the boat he is building, and my son and I had just read Paks for the first time, and raved on about it so much that hubby, who until then had never read fantasy books, sat down and started it, and didn’t get outof his chair for a week, after which he fekt much better, so thank you again for that. Boat still not finished. Husband developed chronic fatigue syndrome. Now paying a professional boatbuilder to finish it for us. Hopefully get it on the water early in the new year.

  7. I recently downloaded the Paks trilogy to my grown-up granddaughter’s Kindle as a gift, knowing she and her sister would share and hopefully enjoy it as much as I had. I had rediscovered the books on my bookshelf, decided to re-read, and found them as mesmerizing now as they had been originally. Of course, I plan to re-read your other books, too.
    I completely agree with you about “golden recognition”. After many years as a free-lance writer who had been published but never with a book of fiction, I resurrected an old novel I had written, re-wrote it on the computer, and published via Amazon. I sold more than 150 copies–a modest amount but tops for self-published non break-out books, was invited to speak at a local book club, etc. and received wonderful reviews from strangers as well as friends. I loved discussing my work and hearing what readers thought about it and how it had affected them. Above all, I had finally fulfilled a life-long dream. Now in my early eighties, I only wish I had done it earlier.

    1. How wonderful! I’m so glad you did that, and so glad it was successful. Now…write another one. Seriously…you have more experience in life than I do–sounds like about 10 years more–and I’ll bet you have more wisdom to impart. (I would include showers of confetti and balloons if I could get them to work here, but…not happening, at least not tonight.)

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