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Sunday, November 05, 2006

Desperate Measures

I have a cousin who's desperate to get married and/or be in a relationship. She's been this way since she was in her mid-20s and it's embarrassing to watch. Heck, it's embarrassing to be around at all. I went out with her and a few other cousins to a bar years ago, and as I watched them interact with the men, I became desperate to get out of there. If you've seen those Arby's commercials where the guy has a neon hat over his head announcing that he's thinking Arby's, you'd have an idea what my cousin is like. She had a neon sign flashing "Desperate" over her head.

The area, though, where the desperation really seems to be most evident is writing. There are so many writers who are so desperate to be published that it leaves me stunned. I'm as insecure and neurotic as anyone, but this is one offshoot that I never experienced and that I never quite understood. In fact, when I look back at my earlier writing, I feel like sending thank you letters to the editors who rejected me. :-)

Maybe that's why I don't understand the mindset. If someone sells before they're ready and readers pick up the book and go Blech! that reader is lost forever. They might give authors they've enjoyed in the past several tries before writing them off, but a new author has to attract and hold a reader immediately--there is no second chance.

I do understand that all these desperate-to-be-published writers believe they are ready. I thought I was ready with my first completed manuscript and the second and the third. I wasn't. When I look back at that stuff now, I can see it plainly. But I'm also a believer in we're where we're supposed to be when we're supposed to be there. Maybe that's why I never got that frenzied desperation. Or maybe it's because of what happened after my first story was rejected.

I was in my mid-20s, I think. I do know I was out of college, but not for all that long. I received a rejection letter for my first completed mss, and because I had no idea that RWA or my local writing chapter existed, I didn't realize I'd gotten the second best rejection a writer can get. (The editor wrote a very detailed letter telling me what I needed to work on.) At the time, all I knew was that I sucked, and if I was that bad, I wasn't going to waste my time writing. After six months, though, I missed writing down my stories. So I asked myself a few questions one of which was: Even if you knew you would never, ever get published, would you still write? The answer was a resounding yes! I began working on correcting the problem areas the editor pointed out.

I still wanted to be published, that went without saying, but it was the writing itself that was important to me, the stories, the characters. Being published was a dream, a goal, but it wasn't everything. That's where I think the desperate people are. Being published to them is more important than the writing, than the story, than the characters. It's a way to garner self-validation for them, a way to boost their self-confidence.

It doesn't work.

Not in any facet of life. If you can't find your sense of self-worth inside yourself, there is no external situation that will give it to you. Ever. I've seen this with a couple of women at the day job. One got her self-worth from her job (she was a clerk) and the other through items she bought. The thing is, this kind of self-esteem doesn't last. Like an addict in need of another high, the dose needs to keep going up and up and up to give the same level of flying. The woman who needed things went from needing a bigger television to wanting to add on to her home. (with a few increments in between, of course) But they couldn't afford to do it and she became dissatisfied that her husband wasn't earning more.

I wonder if these writers who have such a vehement need to be published realize they have neon signs over their heads flashing Desperate? I wonder if they realize how unattractive it is and how--no matter how hard they try to hide it--probably a good 90% of the people they have contact with can see it? I wonder if these writers understand that if they're not balanced before they sell, that it's going to be a million times more difficult for them afterward?

It's an emotional rollercoaster ride after selling. Some people have calmer rollercoasters than others, but everyone boards one. I don't care how much you think you know, how much you've learned from authors you know who were published before you, no one is 100% prepared for what lies ahead.

I wish I could tell these people to calm down, to work on their self-worth issues and to find a balance within themselves, but the problem is that I don't believe most of these people realize that they're desperate. They assume it's someone else, not them. They're ready to be published, they're just working toward their goal, and anyone who says something to them is jealous because they're so close. I had one friend I talked off the ledge dozens and dozens and dozens of times. I don't think she ever appreciated just how much I did for her. For sure I never was thanked for my efforts. But I don't think she realized how frenzied she was and I think she still doesn't know.

I've heard stories of writers cheating to get published and I just shake my head. What good does it do them? When their sell through sucks and no publisher is willing to take them on because their numbers are so bad, what have they gained? The right to hold up their book and say "I'm published"? Selling once doesn't guarantee a second sale. Look at all the authors who've had one or two books out and disappeared from the face of the earth. And how satisfying can it be to get published by cheating? There can't be any real sense of achievement because they didn't sell because they were good enough, they sold because they're more dishonest than the next writer. Or better at being dishonest.

Now that I've sermonized today (well, it is Sunday!), I'm climbing down off my soapbox and gonna go do something. I know this post won't do any good for the people that need it, but I've been thinking about this since I heard about the contest thing and just wanted to point out a few things.