Anne Lamott is my writing mentor. I love her voice, sense of humor and self-deprecation. She’s a real person, and I like that in a writer.
In her book, Bird by Bird, she discusses a writer's need for publication, and how disappointing success can be. She uses a line from the movie "Cool Runnings" to illustrate her point. When a group of men on an Olympic bobsledding team are desperate to win a gold medal, their coach tells them, "If you're not enough before the gold medal, you won't be enough with it."
I believe Anne knows what she is talking about. She could be right. But my mentor has been published, a lot. And now she makes a good living with her gold medal. It's kind of like when a married friend tells her single friend that marriage is overrated. True, but it's just one of those things you can't tell your friends. I would rather be married than single, and I would much rather be published than not. So now what?
Okay, so I've had a few successes in my little writing life. But just enough to keep me in the game and not enough to make me feel like someone who, at a party, could honestly answer the question, “So what do you do? with the answer, “I am a writer, by God, a writooooor!”
Instead, I usually say something like this, “I write, but I’ve never actually been paid for it, so I guess I’m more of a loser than a writer. I write, so technically I’m a “writer” but who cares? I mean, it’s not like you can pop into a Barnes & Noble and actually pick up one of my books, even in the ½ off section. Look at Geraldo Rivera, he has a book, and he’s Geraldo, the dork with a broken nose who blew up an empty room looking for Al Capone, while an eager America was watching! At this point I would be happy with an article in Reader’s Digest or The Penny Saver. Nope, I’m more of a reader than a writer. I read other people’s work, because they’re published, and I’m not. (at this point the other person has walked away, helped themselves to another Martini and called their therapist to see if they can sneak me in for a session pro-bono because I’m not published and clearly couldn’t afford $150 bucks an hour to treat this unpublishable illness).”
Is it obvious that I received a rejection letter today? It actually came in the form of a very nice email, from a very big editor, and she said my essay was “lovely.” So I should be feeling good, right? And I do, a little. I feel as good as my single friends feel when I tell them having a baby is great, but so is a really good movie with buttery popcorn.
I don’t need a gold medal, maybe just a silver one, or bronze. And who would join the Olympics without the dream of winning the gold, anyway? Wouldn’t you have to have some severe mental illness to put yourself through that, just to participate? It’s ridiculous to think someone would spend their life practicing their craft without the hope of success? Isn’t it? If God or even Sylvia Browne told me today that I would never get published, that my life as a writer would never be more successful than it is today, would I still write? Of course. Would I be happy about it? No freakin' way.
Maybe I’m not enough before the gold medal. But there’s only one way to find out. Everyday, I’ll get out my bobsled, walk up the mountain, and slide down. Even if is just for the cheap thrill of doing something dangerous.