By Nichole Giles
It’s been a while since I had the chance to write a blog that actually has to do with writing. I have to say that as much as I enjoy doing book reviews, I have missed blogging about what’s on my mind. I miss my readers. (Yes, that means all of you.)
Anyway, in light of my recent lack, I thought I’d share a story with you.
A few days ago I went on a school camp out with my ten-year-old daughter. The why and where aren’t so important to this story, so I’ll skip the explanations except to mention that I took my laptop-at my daughter’s encouragement—hoping to get a little writing done in the downtime. I mean, seriously, a peaceful (?) mountain setting can potentially be a good place to write. Right?
Anyway, during the evening, the teachers took the kids outside to play night games, and I took some time to add 1100 words to my book. Sitting in my comfortable camp chair, with my feet kicked up and my document open (and headphones in my ears to mute the background noise) I wrote myself into yet, another, proverbial corner. I looked up, contemplating the dilemma of my situation, and caught the eye of another mother. In fact, she was the only other parent there whose name and face I knew. And since her daughter and mine are good friends, we each know a little bit about what the other does.
She smiled. “Is that your children’s book?”
“No,” I said, frowning at the screen. “It’s a new one. This one is for young adults.”
“Oh, wow,” she said, coming closer. “When does your children’s one come out?”
I looked up again, realizing she expected me to actually follow through on her attempt at making conversation. (Because, just a reminder—people who don’t write, don’t usually understand the consequences of breaking a writer’s concentration!) “I don’t know. I haven’t sold it yet.” (Besides, that one is really bad and I don’t’ have the time or desire to rewrite the whole thing. Time to move onto better stories.) For the sake of recovery—and for reasons I still don’t understand—I said, “I have an adult book I’m marketing at the moment—but so far it's getting rejected.”
“Oh, I know how tough it is to get published,” she said. “Do you know so-and-so?”
Really? She knows about rejection? That was news to me. And I didn’t know so-and-so.
“She just moved into your neighborhood, and is the PTA president. She teaches aerobics at the gym. Oh, and I think she’s in the primary presidency, too.” The mother described the location of said person’s home. Not my ward, pshew. “Anyway,” she continued, “she got eight rejections before her book got published.”
My ears pricked up. Really? Another writer? Down the street? Interesting. “What’s the title of her book?” I asked. Because, isn’t that something you know about people who are supposed to be your friends?
“Um,” she thought for a minute. “I don’t know, but it’s a true story about…”
Hey, that’s cool, I thought. My book is a true story, too. But I said, “I’ve never heard of it. Good for her that she found a publisher. Do you know who published it?”
The woman shook her head. “No, but I know another guy who started his own publishing company to publish his book.”
I sighed. “He self-published?”
“Yeah!” she said. “He says it was easy. If you want, I can find out how he did it and get you the information.”
I smiled, trying to look way more cheerful than I felt. “Thanks. I actually have a lot of information about self-publishing. I might go that route, but not quite yet.”
The conversation ended and I went back to my document. Except that I could no longer concentrate. I don’t know exactly what about the situation made me feel inadequate. But I came away from the conversation feeling like a total failure. Never mind that I have NO desire to be the PTA president, and I’ve done my time in the primary presidency. (Although, I have no idea—none—where that woman finds time to do all that, teach aerobics, raise her children, move into a new house, and still write a book…) Never mind that my rejection list is more than two pages long. I was in the middle of a masterpiece, but for some reason I felt completely worthless as a writer.
Okay, it’s entirely possible that I was exhausted from a day of camping with fifth-graders, but still. What happened there?
Here’s the truth. People will always compare us to other authors—and we will stand and stare in the mirror wondering how in the world we will ever live up to that comparison. I mean, seriously, I don’t even know that author except that occasionally her son shows up at my front door to play with my son (which I later figured out.) But I was being told how she looks in someone else’s eyes, and it was close to complete adoration. For a split second, equal parts of dislike and envy flashed through me for a stranger.
But wait a minute. I don’t know this person, nor do I know the title to her so-called book. I don’t doubt that she’s published, or that she is everything my daughter’s-friend’s-mother made her out to be. What in the world had gotten into me that I would unfairly compare myself to her? Oh wait. The other mother did that. Sort of. At least, my brain told me to take it that way.
The humor of the situation is this: the point of being a writer is to be uniquely me. I don’t have to be the PTA president, aerobics instructor, primary presidency / author who never sleeps and whose house is always spotless (okay, I threw that one in myself). The point is for me to be exactly who I am and no one else. That is what makes my writing good, that is what makes artists successful, and that is what makes the entire conversation—and especially my reaction to it—laughable.
The good thing is, it made me think about my own unique qualities and how someday those exact qualities will bring me the success of which I dream. And joy of joys, I don’t have to be the PTA president to get there. Thank goodness!