Friday, August 3, 2012

Bring it back

When I was 16, I became friends with this guy who was a real creative type (and he still is, so I am told).  He was mainly into music, and that was cool, but he also wrote stories from sometimes.  Once he told me about this dream he had.  I think maybe it was more of a daydream rather than an actual dream he'd had while sleeping, but that didn't really matter to me.  What mattered was that it was nice story; in fact, I didn't even know that guys ever thought about things so nice.  I decided I would write it down for him.  Because writing was what I did.   It took me several days.  I filled in some gaps and embellished a few things here and there, and I even added a couple characters to smooth the whole thing out.  When I was finished, I gave it to him-- under the strict mandate that he show it to no one.

He grinned.  And what did he do?  He showed it to his dad.  Yes, his dad.  I was mortified.  I could have killed him.  His father was some kind of literary aficionado.  I wouldn't have shown his dad my best work, much less this. It was little more than a fairly tale.  And it wasn't even my own.

But his dad liked it.  He called me on the phone-- yes, his father called me-- to discuss my writing.  I couldn't even talk, I was so embarrassed.  And the next day, my friend (if he could so be called) returned the manuscript to me.  His dad had written all over it in pencil.  Underlining certain sentences.  Commenting here and there.  But the thing that has stayed with me all these years was what he wrote at the very top of the first page:  "The world must hear this voice."

 *****

Writing was always the thing I did.  It was my way in, my way out, my way through.  Maybe I thought of it as my ace in the hole.  It never occurred to me to try to make it into a career, it was more like a hobby or something that I would do "someday" if I ever go the chance--or maybe--if I was left with nothing else I could do.

People always told me I was good at it.  My high school friend's father, for example.  My relatives and in-laws.  My dissertation advisor.  Random strangers.  My boss at work.

And I believed them.

But the thing is, when I first started to really do this and venture into the world of publishing, the first thing I found out was that they were all wrong.  Or if they weren't wrong, at least, it didn't matter whether I was good at it or not.

I saw recently that there are 32 million publications out there right now in the US alone, and that doesn't even consider many works that have been self-published.  You've got to have something other than good because even good gets washed out with odds like that.

It's depressing.

I mean, I always knew "getting your book published" was hard, but I've done lots of hard things.  Like survive hyperemesis and give birth without pain medication and run 12 marathons and write a dissertation and spend a year living in the jungle with howler monkeys.  This is different.  It takes something I just don't have.  I'm not quite sure what it is.  And when I saw it face to face, I didn't even want it.

It's taken me a long time to come to terms with this--the idea that I'm not actually good at the thing everybody has been telling me I'm good at since the time I could hold a pencil.  And even if I am good at it, it's not enough.  What it means is, I've got no ace in the hole.  I've got no way out.

I spent a lot of time back in April in a dark room, lying in bed, dealing with this.  In fact, I'm still there some of the time.

So I guess I haven't come to terms with it.  But what I did come to was a conclusion.

I like to write.  I've always done it.  I don't write for a market, I don't have a platform or even a genre.  When I spoke with a literary agent last April, and she asked me who my target audience was, the only person I could possibly think of in the entire world who might like to read this book (other than myself) was my BFF of nearly a quarter of a century, Amy MeyPfan.

And so after a long, long time of intermittently lying in the dark listening to songs the Indigo Girls wrote when one or both of them was going through a break up, what I decided was this:

I'm going to write books for Amy to read.

I felt better for the first time in a long time.

Who cares if New York never gives my stuff the time of day?  I'm writing books for Amy.

So I did.  I brought it back.  I sat down, and I wrote.  And in two months' time, I had a whole 'nother book done.  I just sent it to her earlier this week.  It probably sucks.  I don't know.  Who cares.  But it felt good just to do it, and if I ever really am going to get better at this, I think that's exactly what I need to do.  Learn how to write.  

Amy made her own announcement this week--one that I am overjoyed to share.  She's decided to put pen to paper as well, reviving her lifelong dream to become a writer (actually, she is already a writer), and I've got to say, I can't wait to read anything and everything she writes.  We're both grown up now and with kids, so we don't have the time to talk on the phone or walk through the neighborhood endlessly plotting and coming up with characters.  But now that she's in it, I'm overjoyed, because it makes me feel like I'm not quite so alone.

Thanks for reading.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

You ARE a good writer ... and getting a book published IS very difficult unless you self-publish. Glad to hear you're going to 'bring it back' and if Amy P needs help, send your writings to me ... I would be happy to be a reader of your books!!!! Lots of love, auntie

Anonymous said...

so BE 32million and ONE!! always KEEP writing , no matter what is going on in your life! do IT for YOU , and it will make it much less stressful!!! IF you write to PLEASE someone else, it's a whole nother thing!!!! I will 'always' be 'ready' to read your books, even YOUR first HARD BACK one, back in FIRST grade...... ? was it first grade??? Just don't make yourself BOZWELLED about writing...... do it to ENJOY!!! luv you, mama

Anonymous said...

diddo ! I agree with Auntie and your Mom. You are a wonderful, interesting writer. It is just like so many things in this world. You have to "know someone" who knows how to get you what you want. It is not fair, but so many things aren't. Just keep writing, and you never know what might happen. Just enjoy it for yourself and for all of us out there, that LOVE reading what you wirte.

Mom's bestest friend

Melissa said...

Thanks for bearing with me, everybody, as I get through this. I promise: less melancholy posts are coming one of these days.

amypfan said...

I love this post!! (Of course, I'm only reading it a week after you posted it... shows how busy I've ben lately, I guess.) I am loving your book so far, and I really truly believe that the world as a whole would too. So keep it up!!