I wrote my first short story when I was eleven years old. It was called (I think) “World War III and the Laser Interceptors.” The only reason you write something like that when you’re eleven is because you are genuinely interested in storytelling. There isn’t much thought of selling it or finding a wide audience–you just have a need to get your imagination down on paper. I’m not sure what other preteen authors think, but I sure didn’t think I was a real writer. Mine was just some words scrawled in blue ink on ruled loose leaf paper.
Thirteen years later I finished my first novel, and I still didn’t feel like a real writer. By then I was composing on a computer instead of loose leaf paper, but the general feeling was the same–when you publish something, you’re a writer, and not before.
What I didn’t anticipate was that, after finally publishing a novel, I still didn’t feel like a real writer. It’s hard to say why. My book was there on the shelf. It was a hardcover. I arranged (or rather the friendly PR rep, Mary, arranged) seven book signings, which isn’t bad for a first novelist.
What did I think? Did I expect to have lunch with Stephen King and attend lavish book publishing parties in New York and win awards for my luminous fiction?
Success rarely takes the form you expect. It doesn’t necessarily come to you, glowing, wrapped red and gold and green.
Actually, yes, but that’s not what happened. What happened is that I migrated from “unpublished” to “published” in an extraordinary way for me and a more subtle way for the general public. Readers didn’t rush out in massive droves to purchase my work. I wasn’t interviewed by Matt Lauer and Oprah Winfrey. Rather, I achieved a lifelong goal, was happy to do it, and learned an important lesson–success rarely takes the form you expect. It doesn’t necessarily come to you, glowing, wrapped red and gold and green. And even if it does, sales and publicity aren’t what most writers are after. Most writers just want to say something, and hopefully a few of you want to hear it, too.
Today I had lunch with my literary agent and drinks with my editor a few hours later. Today I feel like a real writer.
But really I’ve been a real writer since I was eleven, because writers write, after all. And if they work hard enough, or are talented enough, or fortunate enough, they publish. If they’re really fortunate, they sell well. The only aspiring writers out there are the people who say they’re going to do it, but never sit down and finish something.
Cheers to all the real writers out there. I had a drink for you tonight.