Writers are emotional creatures who wind themselves up for countless reasons. Small wonder readers often get fed up with us. Sometimes I get fed up with myself.
Do the following sound familiar?
I have a new idea/contract/cover/release/blog tour! J I’m going to a conference! J I’m going as an author instead of a nobody! J J An author who’ll be in the spotlight, like Liza Minnelli in Cabaret! J J J I can’t go to this conference. L But I’m going to that conference! J I scored a great story prompt at Goodreads! J I didn’t score a story prompt. L I got a glowing review! J I got an ickycaca review from a poopbutt who doesn’t understand my work. L I won a contest! J I lost a contest. L I’m in DABWAHAHAHAHA although I have no clue how I got there or even what it is! J I hate those stupid people who run that stupid tournament ‘cause they're poopbutts who play favorites. L Readers and reviewers love me! J Readers and reviewers don’t love me enough. L Readers and reviewers are brainless poopbutts who ignore me. L L I don’t deserve love because I’m a brainless poopbutt. L
A lot of this kind of stuff has been swirling through social media lately. Since I’ve contributed to the whirlwind, I figured it’s time to step away and go in search of a precious and elusive commodity: reality.
Ah, I think I see it there, at my local resale shop!
Every time I go to a resale shop, I gravitate to the book section. Most of you probably do. And at some point I start to mourn all the dozens of "masterpieces," with beat-up dustjackets or no jackets at all, that are doomed to languish unnoticed on the shelves. I think of the men and women who penned them, how thrilled and proud they were to get published -- then how, ten or thirty or fifty years later, they fell into total, impenetrable obscurity.
Imagine how Edna Winchester’s ego swelled when A Chalice of Rubies was issued. Did she celebrate? Sure she did. Maybe donned her best lemon-yellow cocktail suit with rhinestone buttons and went to a nice restaurant with her husband. Maybe drank one-too-many glasses of champagne afterward. Her mild hangover was worth it, though. A Chalice of Rubies made her that special being called an “author.”
But that was in 1962. Regardless of Edna’s creation being offered by the Book of the Month Club as an alternate selection, regardless of it being condensed for Reader’s Digest, regardless of raves and pans and an award for Best Historical Novel of the Year by the Crown and Quill Writers’ Guild, A Chalice of Rubies now sits -- ragged, ignored, and leaning piteously -- on a warped and dusty shelf. Nobody’s willing to pay so much as a dime for it. Nobody’s even heard of Edna Winchester. In fact, nobody other than Edna's friends and family have heard of her since 1974.
So, my writer friends, if you ever find yourselves fussing over reviews, either good or bad, or feeling pumped up by a contest win or deflated by a contest loss; if you’re ever tempted to pat yourselves on the back or kick yourselves in the ass because of your success or lack thereof . . . go to a garage sale or any store that sells other people's unwanted crap. Scan the books. Note how many author names you don’t recognize. Note how many books couldn’t interest you less. Pick up one that's bound in cheap, paper-covered boards or barely clinging to a faded and tattered dustjacket, and think about its short journey from pride-and-joy to piece of shit.
Believe me, you’ll get a humbling adjustment in perspective. You'll realize the vast majority of fiction is throwaway fiction. Nothing you do, don’t do, are, aren’t, score, don’t score as a writer will ever seem quite so earth-shattering anymore.
Until, of course, that next release or review or conference or contest . . .