From the time I was a little girl, I fancied myself a writer. But as the years wore on and reality set in, I began to follow what I thought was a more realistic career path and became a legal secretary. Somewhere along the way, I married my husband and had two wonderful children. When I was blessed enough to begin staying home with my boys, I realized that I had everything that I could have wanted with one exception. And about a year ago, an atom bomb of a thought exploded in my mind and refused to leave.
I had never had the confidence in myself to truly follow a dream.
I set off for Barnes and Noble with that and my childhood fantasies of becoming a writer in my back pocket. My enthusiasm lasted right up until I purchased and began reading my first (and worst) “How To” on writing. At 360 pages, it was damn near Bible length, and I found it crippling. Even after it did everything it promised it could. In fact, there were plenty of details on how to write, publish, market, and/or coddle a book into existence. At the same time, as I read chapter after chapter, each more daunting than the last, I was further convinced that my career as a writer was already up before it had even begun.
The sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach began around Chapter Three… Had I been writing for years? Yes (that one was easy.) Did I have a degree from a prestigious University? (Not unless you count my Cosmetology license from a local beauty school.) Nor have I hobnobbed regularly with other writers and I definitely do not have a lot of spare time to network on the World Wide Web to find some willing to meet for a latte and chat about our latest works at 2am. I guess I don’t need to mention that living in a small rural town in Maine means that I don’t often (and by that, I mean ever) rub elbows with the elite in publishing.
So, here we are, exactly zero friends in high places, a few college credits, and no journalism degree later. I am certain of just one thing- I definitely do not have a foot in anyone’s literary door. And I have the “How To” in my hot little hand insisting that I must line up each of these factors perfectly before I can amount to any degree of success. And when those (presumably) smarter than myself and published authors of books (plural) say that difficulty is waiting just ahead, maybe I should heed their “wise” advice and give up. Of these two words, be certain, I am not proud.
But in this one instance, maybe I AM right to give in to the overwhelming fear of failure. The goose has already been cooked. I have no qualifications and no business pretending that I belong anywhere near this exclusive writers club. Maybe it is time to put my crayons away before I dare dip them into the inkwell of wasted effort.
As the overall haughty tone of the “How To” continued to discourage, an odd thing began to happen. And not because I was suddenly inspired by the holier than thou advice- but the fire under my chair and in my fingers grew larger anyway.
Certainly, the “How To” had explained all the “rules” to us new (see also: inexperienced) writers, and it had also explained all of the things that we shouldn’t or more simply couldn’t do, but it never once deigned to mention doing the thing in our heart.
Nowhere betwixt the pages of the big, fat book is the word : try. And believe me, I looked.
In fact, the HOW TO made very little mention of what I had assumed was the most important step in the whole process: sitting down and allowing your cursor to fly. Or, as Joyce Meyer once said: we are not failures just because we fail at something, no one is a failure unless they quit trying.
Needless to say, I suddenly realized that I had been waiting for the chapter entitled: Sometimes It Is Okay to Disregard the Naysayers and Follow Your Intuition and Heart. That is the best kind of advice because I know there are many things in life more important than a lot of strange someones laughing at my ability to write a really bad book (of which, I may happily write several.)
Suffice to say, halfway through the How To, I had decided that Eat, Pray, Love would have been a better, more enjoyable way to have spent $10.99.
Because I like to pretend I am an eternal optimist, I still held out hope for a gem amongst the wreckage. Although towards the last of it, I would have settled for a small nugget of optimism or encouragement from either of the successful co-authors who have been there before me. And have the t-shirt to prove it. Or perhaps, unlike the rest of us who have to start somewhere, they were lucky enough to have been born professional writers. In the event this is true, and under the old adage that two heads are better than one, I wanted to believe there had to be a lesson worth learning somewhere amongst 300 some-odd pages.
Six chapters in, I re-named the “How To” book “DON’T WRITE ANYTHING, NOT EVEN YOUR OWN GROCERY LIST, YOU FOOL.”
And then I finally tossed it into the woodstove…
Actually, the truth is much less satisfying and I read to the bitter end. Unfortunately, this also means I cannot recover the precious time I spent poring over this HOW DON’T of a HOW DO. That, as we all know by now, I disliked intensely from page one. Looking back, it hardly seems worth it when I could have enjoyed an always fulfilling Emily Giffin novel, or A Tree Grows In Brooklyn for the umpteenth time. Perhaps Webster’s Dictionary cover to cover. Anything else really.
To give credit where it is due, I believe the authors of the How To were trying to impress upon budding writers just how cutthroat the world of successful writing can be. To be sure, it was littered throughout with barb-wire advice, peppered with a sense of scoff, and sprinkled with disdain, but I hold out hope that their aim was along the lines of helpful.
Even when the only thing I walked away with initially was a sense that my inner “you cannot do this” self had been right all along.
“Skewering Your Dreams In 360 Pages or Less.” I had spent much of the book re-naming it and I promise this is the last and final title that I settled on.
This isn’t to say that I want something for nothing. I fully expect that anything worth doing is bound to be difficult. Take childbirth for example- no one in their right mind wants to labor, scream, and sweat. But millions of babies are still born each year. And any loving mother will tell you that the end result is worth every toe-curling second of pain.
That being said, I do not expect to be simply handed the kind of advice that is guaranteed to blow the lid off the publishing world when successful writing starts at home. According to an oft celebrated author, the secret to getting ahead is getting started.
Knowing this is true, is not the same as doing it. And I still cannot help but feel like the writers should have done a little “remember when” trip back to their budding writer selves during the How TO process. And certainly, they could have used a few Mark Twain-ism’s.
Call me Polly-Anna if you like, but I would have included just one measly chapter on dreams and optimism. And that an effort can be worth the risk. At this point, I imagine it is clear that that particular chapter never materialized from the creators of the “How To.”
Something better did…
My 145,000 word manuscript.
As any self-loathing human would, I admit that it is probably awful. But it is mine. And while it might not be my finest work, it won’t be my last. Thank you, disdainful writers of the How To, for enabling me to try out for the team anyway. And I will continue to fake it until I make it.
The moral of the story, kids, don’t accept that others know better than you. Get out there and see for yourself. And at the end of the day, while finishing the How To certainly wasn’t a labor of love, I did learn something from betwixt it’s rotten pages.
Good things can come from bad…