When Other People Get Good News

The other day, I rejoiced for several hours at someone else’s good news. It was fantastic and well deserved. A friend who has labored long and hard got his brass ring: a publishing deal. His humor, wit, and intelligence have finally been recognized by gatekeepers who know what can sell. I had some flashbacks to our shared misery over the last five years while we both strived after agents, publishing contracts, and our work to be known. Recently he told me he wasn’t sure he could survive another slew of rejections. Now with an advance in hand and a two-book deal, he can finally say he’s arrived.

As the joy has faded, I’ve felt twinges of wistfulness for the road I hopped off and what it might have offered me if in 2012 I’d said, “I’ll stay the course.” I wonder what it would be like to work with distributors that could get my book easily to brick-and-mortar stores. I’d love to give a publisher’s name to ensure a book signing. I’d love to have a marketing team set up interviews, conferences, and events.

I chose a different route. I decided after 14 months with an agent to blast myself into the self-pub universe. I’ve had nothing but fun and autonomy doing this, with a lot of blessings from good friends, family, and strangers who took the chance to invest in my work. I assemble a support team for all projects and make all the decisions. I’ve got a great website, good reviews, and a monthly newsletter. I have a beautiful book trailer. I’m blessed with the remainder of my “advance”—a grant from the Elizabeth George Foundation—that allows me to plan to self-publish my next book.

My sales remain small and occasional because I rarely promote. With a fulltime job and a family, I only have time to write my next book. I have a 10-year plan, one that involves writing several more books, playing with prices to give my readers good deals, and hiringa publicist in order to increase my reach. All in good time, I keep telling myself when vaulting ambition threatens to flagellate me and when others’ good news makes me wonder if I’ve chosen the wrong road.

Over a decade ago, I went to a dear friend’s baby shower that happened the same week as another dear friend’s wedding. In a weak moment, I confessed to one of them, I feel you all have moved on. It felt very childish to admit at the time, but I couldn’t help myself. Sometimes, a lot of change hits all at once, where you think everyone else is grown up while your own future stays blank and unscripted. There are moments where you not only can’t predict the future, you sometimes think there might not be one to get excited about. My friends’ news didn’t leave me wanting something different for them, just for me to join them in the same headlines.

The self-pub lifestyle is a lot like being single: in order to survive it, you gotta build your own tribe. Just as I left these celebrations and got back on and made plans with friends, today I have to hire editors, graphic designers, filmmakers, book formatters, and web designers so I can publish a book. In the same way I couldn’t magically expect a social life to appear, I can’t expect a book to be born on its own. I can’t feel sorry for myself if sales don’t happen; I need to regroup, strategize, and keep working.

I never would have predicted that three years after the wedding and the baby shower, I’d be married at 37 in a boots-and-jeans wedding12wedding with a pig-pickin’ to follow. I couldn’t imagine that my beloved friends would suffer sorrows I’ve never had to bear. During that week of celebration, I could have told you they had a better deal than me, with a case of grass-is-greener kind of sadness. I can tell you now, I was foolish to focus on what I didn’t have and believe others had their happiness set.

My friend’s good news meets me wiser today than I was in 2002, when I believed there was a timing and momentum in life that I must follow or else I was somehow less than. My friend’s great news assures me there is justice and reward for some who keep trying at the traditional route, and that good stuff does indeed make it into print.  My friend’s amazing news gives me hope that legacy publishing might be a route for me to someday try again, that perhaps could get me the agent who is that awesome advocate, brilliant negotiator, and savvy adviser. This event in someone else’s life reminds me to stay my current course with persistence and integrity, check my gut when necessary, and never say never to self-pub or traditional success.

I trust in the rightness of what is right now. The joy I have for my friend mirrors the joy I feel when I open the file to my manuscript in process. Isn’t this fun, my whole body says. For in this moment, I get to write.




Pay Attention to the Man Behind the Curtain

Image found here

Some make the argument that good writers should “make it look easy.” In other words, don’t carp about all the hard work it took to get the manuscript in the gorgeous shape it now boasts. Don’t ever show the seamy underbelly of revisions, cross-outs, ripped cuticles, and gray hair. Your readers don’t really need to see all that.

I disagree. If people think your art is magic (muse-driven and easily wrought) then they don’t get art, at all. At certain times and places–your book signing, on your web site–I think it’s fair to showcase the drafts that got away, the revisions that got dumped, and the hours it took to get the glossy draft your readers now enjoy. Pull back the curtain on the perfect and say, “There’s a bit of slime back here…”

If audiences don’t know the truth, they are likely to think, as I’ve heard too often in reference to the art of teaching: “Hell, anyone can do it!” They may well decide it’s not worth paying the price. Hey, can you spot me a copy of your book/CD…can you get me a free ticket to the show?

Never mind the ego that seems to have taken many Americans prisoner in this age of self-publishing: I’m going to be the next J.K. Rowling/John Grisham/Toni Morrison/Stephen King/Malcolm Gladwell! Check out my first draft! 

The man behind the curtain–the neurotic artist full of woes and struggles, never mind a history of disappointment–that man matters very much.

This said, I want to make the argument that writers and other independent artists (I would place painters and other visual artists in this category) have it easier than those who need others to make art. The independence is all.  Why? Because you have no one but yourself to blame. Being married to a musician gives me this perspective, as does being the sister of an actress/producer. The group arts are a lot harder to sustain than the solo arts.

Writing is 95% solo. Sure, there’s working with agents and publishers; there are tours, speeches, and signings; there’s social marketing and comments on blogs. But every morning when I sit down to write, I only have Lyn Fairchild Hawks to hold accountable. I don’t lose momentum today if someone in my writers’ group failed to show last night. For my art to get done, I gotta do it, no excuses.

My husband is a musician dependent on at least four others in his band being able to

a) attend practice and show on time;
b) agree on singing the same songs;
c) practice those songs when no one’s looking;
d) assist with set-up and breakdown of sound equipment;
e) dress appropriately for the gig;
f) behave appropriately during the gig;
g) invest financially in a recording venture or new sound equipment;
h) and bring an audience to a show.

I’m leaving out a long, long list of other assumed professional behaviors that one would hope everyone would follow but don’t always appear.

Even with a strong group of musicians, a band leader faces these challenges or variations on them constantly because he prefers the sound that’s made by a group to his solo act. He is not merely artist but also manager, mediator, motivator, coach, etiquette trainer, and a thousand other roles that have nothing to do with songwriting, singing, and playing. Somedays, my biggest problem is believing in myself. Professional musicians don’t have much room for personal worries to get a performance going.

I won’t talk here about theater and its group dynamics, except to recommend you check out the series Slings and Arrows. Let’s just say that not everyone’s on the same page when it comes to putting up a play.

So, writers, what can we do? Stop complaining about how hard writing is, and just do it. I mean, if you’re an incredibly difficult, lazy, and irresponsible person, then maybe you do have something to moan about to a therapist, but if you have half a will and show up to the page, you’ve got an easier gig than some other artists.

And go support the local theater or musician playing near you. Listen and tip well. It took them a lot to get to that stage.

Writing Prompts

  • Who has it easier than you? Who has it harder? Why? Rant a little, and empathize a little. Describe two people’s lives in detail and explain why one has it easier and one has it harder than you.
  • Write about a time in your life when you had it harder than anyone or easier than anyone. How did you feel? What did you do with that difficulty or privilege? How do you see that past experience now?
  • Should one compare oneself to others, or is it a futile exercise? Why or why not?
  • Do you know others who work in different arts than you? What do you know of their lives? Step into their shoes and write a few paragraphs of a life through another’s eyes.
  • How hard is writing for you, on a scale of 1 to 10? Why? What makes it difficult for you to show up to the page? What makes it easy? 
  • Do you consider yourself a professional writer? If so, then what constitutes professional behavior? (You can start with the musician’s list above and see if any of these assumptions apply to the writing life.)
  • What are your writing goals for 2012? 
  • What are the  psychological and physical barriers to your writing or writing well? List them and brainstorm three solutions to each.
  • What arts different than yours do you resolve to support in 2012? Why?