Many an author warns “pre-pubbed” writers to enjoy the journey. Publication opens a whole new can of worms. They tell us that they long for the days before deadlines, worries about sales, and the pressure to produce the next great book. We don’t listen, of course, believing that the goal of publication brings nothing but blue skies with fantastic new horizons, and important to most of us – recognition.
The children’s story The Velveteen Rabbit resonates with me because 2013 has been my year of becoming a “real” writer. The journey to publication leaves me feeling empathy for the toy rabbit whose transformation to a real bunny involves pain and struggle.
The Skin Horse tells the bunny, “Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
New authors may have moments of pulling their own hair out in frustration at the conflicting advice and intimidating learning curves involved in setting up a website, blogging, and promotion. Our eyes become red and our vision blurs from hours on the computer or with notepad and pencil – additional hours, beyond the precious time spent creating fiction. Loose in the joints as we neglect our exercise programs. Shabby? There are entire online conversations about the fashion-challenged writing community.
The paradox is that I was just as “real” as a writer before I sold my book. What I notice most is that publication has given me legitimacy in the eyes of non-writers. You can paint a picture and call yourself a painter, but in order for people to believe you are a writer, it seems you must have a printed book in your hand. That painting may be hung on a wall as evidence of your dedication, but few people (other than critique partners or beta readers) are interested in reading a novel in progress. They want the finished product. For them, what makes you real is achieving that goal, crossing the finish line of publication.
(Just a side note: Emily Dickinson published few poems in her lifetime, and those anonymously, did not seek publicity, and is one of our most revered American poets.)
For some folks, publication may be necessary to justify to the demanding people in their lives the time they spend writing. Years can go into learning the art and craft of writing fiction before any reward is realized, financial or otherwise. Outsiders just don’t “get” how long it can take to catch that dream.
I wouldn’t trade my new status for thicker hair, clear eyes, and a less flabby middle. Becoming real for me, as for the Velveteen Rabbit, has been worth every painful step.
Have you experienced transformations in your life that made you feel you went from an imposter or wannabe to a recognized expert in your chosen endeavor? What were the upsides? Any downsides?
Goodreads has a page devoted to quotes from Margery Williams’ The Velveteen Rabbit. If you haven’t read this wonderful children’s book, treat yourself to a nicely illustrated copy.
Thanks so much for being my guest here today, Catherine.
To Catherine Dilts, rock shops are like geodes – both contain amazing treasures hidden inside their plain-as-dirt exteriors. Publishers Weekly calls her novel Stone Cold Dead – A Rock Shop Mystery, an “enjoyable debut,” and that “readers will look forward to seeing more of this endearing and strong protagonist.” Catherine works as an environmental scientist, and plays at heirloom vegetable gardening, camping, and fishing. She has published short fiction in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine.
To learn more about Catherine and her work, visit her website. Stone Cold Dead will be released in January 2014 by Five Star and is now available for pre-order.
Stone Cold Dead: Business at the Rock of Ages is as dead as the fossils cluttering the shop’s dusty shelves. When her brother abandons the family rock shop, recently widowed Morgan Iverson reluctantly becomes the manager. Her first day in charge, two pet donkeys escape. While rounding them up, Morgan discovers the body of a Goth teen. When a newspaper article hits the streets hinting that Morgan witnessed the murder, she becomes the victim of escalating threats that make it clear the killer thinks she holds a clue to the teen’s murder. Morgan knows her life won’t be worth a pile of fossilized dinosaur dung unless she can dig up the murderer.
Catherine is giving away an advance review copy of Stone Cold Dead to two lucky readers from the U.S. or Canada who leave a comment on this blog post before midnight Tuesday, December 17 (Mountain Time). The winners will be selected and their names posted here on Wednesday.
Catherine Dilts says
Julie, I’ve heard of so many fiction authors who began in nonfiction – like working for newspapers or magazines, or as technical writers. Keep that dream on your bucket list!
Julie Luek says
Great post. I am a nonfiction writer who rubs elbows with so many fiction writers. I don’t have a book or plans for one yet, but it’s on the bucket list. But I am a published writer. Still, it’s easy to feel not-quite-real when you’re hanging with authors! Thanks for the encouragement.
Catherine Dilts says
Interesting, Elaine. I had a conversation with a coworker yesterday about printed books versus ereaders. We agreed that the printed book would never go away entirely, but it may eventually become as rare as vinyl records, which are amazingly still available.
Elaine L. Orr says
I liked your comparison between a book and a painter’s product. When I first published ebooks, I did not intend to do paperbacks right away — too many things on my plate and not sure how to do it. One of my husband’s aunts said she did not read ebooks, so I (reluctantly) did the first two with Create Space. She has an ereader now, but she enjoyed those first books in paper, and they are my most effective marketing tool. I do all the books in paperback now, and in large print, too. And all because of one reader… Best of luck to you.
Catherine Dilts says
Thanks, Julie. And congrats on your continued writing success!
j.a. kazimer says
Hi Catherine and Pat:
Great post. I’m so happy for you, Catherine. You deserve tons of success. Looking forward to reading Stone Cold Dead.
Patricia Stoltey says
Kenneth, your story is inspiring. We all need friends like yours, to encourage us when the journey gets tough!
Susan, I am starting to see this as a career where you constantly strive for the next plateau. I’m reminding myself to enjoy the journey.
Susan Gourley/Kelley says
Thanks for sharing. The journey seems every ongoing to me. And I love The Velveteen Rabbit.
Kenneth W Harmon says
Great post Catherine. Several years ago, when I was feeling down about my career as a writer, a friend gave me a copy of The Velveteen Rabbit, and inscribed it, “You are real, don’t stop believing in yourself.” I managed to fight off the doubt over the course of twenty some years, and this last week received a publishing contract for my last novel. I have a writer friend who is struggling with self doubt and sometimes gets depressed. I can’t wait for the day he is offered a contract. Thanks for sharing your inspiring story and best of luck with your novel.
Patricia Stoltey says
A note from Catherine who’s having troubles with the Google sign-on this morning:
Thanks to everyone for your comments.
Mario, I hope my post reminds you more experienced folks of how far you’ve come, and maybe reignites that original excitement.
Jacqueline, it must have been amazing to see The Velveteen Rabbit on stage.
Margot, I agree that believing in yourself is critical. Writers spend many hours, years or even decades, before publication. You have to write because you love writing, not because you crave acknowledgement.
Alex, I knew when I sold my first short story that everything would change. I didn’t know how much for several months. It still hasn’t completely sunk in.
Sharon, I hope my post will encourage “pre-pubbed” writers to keep pursuing the dream!
Sharon Himsl says
As one dreaming of publication, I find this post and everyone’s comments encouraging. Shells–Tales–Sails
Alex J. Cavanaugh says
Sometimes you don’t even see the transformation happening. You just look back one day and think wow, when did this happen?
Margot Kinberg says
Pat – Thanks for hosting Catherine.
Catherine – Thanks for sharing your journey. I like the analogy you draw to the Veleveteen Rabbit too. It’s interesting isn’t it how important it can be to feel that what you’re doing is, if I can put it this way, legitimate writing. I think that believing in oneself is critical as the writing journey goes on.
Jacqueline Seewald says
A lovely blog and certainly I can relate to your sentiments. During the time I was a children’s librarian, I always read THE VELVETEEN RABBIT aloud for the children. It’s a touching story as well as complex.
Last Christmas, I went with my granddaughters and daughter-in-law to see a performance of it in a Manhattan theater.
I’ve always felt I was a writer and so didn’t need the vindication of publication–but it is very nice to have just the same! Congrats.
Mario Acevedo says
Inspiring blog even to us jaded old hands. Best of luck and keep writing.