want to be clear from the start: I love my job. I really do. I can’t
believe I get to make stuff up and get paid for it. Very few
professions offer this luxury. Bernie Madoff, for example, might wish
today that he’d had a healthier respect for keeping fiction in its
proper place. We novelists, though, have the great privilege of
creating pretend people, living with them in our heads for months on
end, and then telling their fake stories to real people. What a coup! I
hardly dare utter a discouraging word.
But can we be honest? Just for
one, weak moment? The writer’s life does have its allotment of
surprises (good days) and fatal flaws
(throw-the-laptop-at-the-innocent-FedEx-man days). Have you had Poor
FedEx Man Days? If not, I wish you Godspeed and just a little bit of
ill will. If you have, however, felt a healthy confusion about what,
exactly, you were thinking when you signed up for this, I present to
you my list. Think of it as free therapy.
Ten Things No One Told
Me About the Glamorous Life of a Writer
Put away the ascot.
Prior to writing my first novel, I’d envisioned a writer’s day spent in
a plush chair by a roaring fire, swirling a glass of sherry while I
typed away under dormered ceilings with a view of a lake. In this
writerly vision, I also spoke with a British accent. Alas, five books
in and I still speak with a flat Midwestern cadence and have never
donned an ascot, unless you
count a polar fleece scarf in February. The only roaring fire would
mean my children are playing with a flame thrower, which brings me to .
2. The Muse hates
children. In fact, the Muse is fickle, high-maintenance, and
must live only at John Grisham’s house. (Does he wear ascots?) I have
three young children who don’t seem to respond to “Mommy needs some
quiet time to think and to write.” If I wait for the Muse to hit, I
might as well reneg on my contracts and take up macramé.
3. Macramé might pay
better. In any case, don’t quit your day job, and consider
adding a third. I’ve heard Krispy Kreme is hiring and you might even
get an employee discount on doughnuts! Doughnuts are hearty fare for
long editing sessions! We must always think of the glass half full,
4. No biggie.
Though you have had the patience and literary fortitude to write an
entire novel without resorting to self-flagellation, your feat will be
entirely unimpressive to your children and to a surprising number of
blood relatives. Try not to take it personally.
5. If you can do it,
anyone can. Aren’t you the same person who got a C in high
school English and once fainted on the risers during the chorus
program? And you wrote a book? Be prepared, then, to field six e-mails
per week that look like this:
I would like to write
a book, too, though I just haven’t taken the time yet because I’m super
busy. You should give me your agent’s cell phone number so I can get
this show on the road.
P.S. I haven’t had the
chance to read your book yet because I’m so
P.P.S. Didn’t you faint during the chorus concert one year?
Speech! General wisdom dictates that people who write books
are smart, erudite, and a tad annoying but always
great public speakers. Expect invitations to speak at Mother’s Day
brunches, even if your books have nothing to do with brunches or
mothers. Deathly fears of public speaking or the desire to keep to
one’s own roaring fire and write in peace are in no way adequate
excuses to opt out of such invitations.
feedback! Writing in the age of information overload means
that Betty Jo from Wichita can, in twenty-five paltry and misspelled
words, pummel your book on Amazon, while all you can do is watch, cry,
and reach for more chocolate. “Thick skin” won’t cut it. Think more in
the vein of Teflon and chain mail.
I have an author friend who says that when her first title released
twenty-some years ago, her publisher politely requested that she keep
out of the marketing effort. All she was employed to do, they said, was
write a good book. The rest was up to the publisher. (Does that story
fill you with longing? I AUDIBLY SIGHED when I
wrote those words.) If you write a book in 2011, Marketing
for Dummies is your new curl-up book for the nightstand.
Embrace your new identity as a literary floozie, but in the most
9. Work what your
momma gave you. Self-promotion, while detestable in most
aspects of a Christ follower’s life, is completely acceptable and
recommended for all Christian authors. To that end, find clever ways to
plug your newest project in articles and interviews, like mentioning
that your novel, Operation Bonnet (David C Cook),
releases this month and is not your grandmother’s
Amish fiction. Try to work in that it’s a story that will have a reader
laughing, crying, and raving about it to all her friends, but don’t be
too obvious. No one likes a person who can only talk about herself.
10. Grace in its
various forms. Nothing will prepare you for the deep rush of
joy and head-shaking humility that comes when a reader tells you that
words you strung together have moved her, awakened her, made her laugh,
educed a prayer, or tugged her closer to our God of grace. Early on in
my writing, I received an e-mail from a young woman who said my novel,
my crazy, imperfect novel, had made her stop and think about her
marriage. She’d committed to loving her husband with more intention,
she said, and she wanted to thank me for my words. I remember the way I
wept in front of my computer that day, marveling anew at the way God
uses all our “filthy rags” and turns them into beautiful things while
we stand by and shake our heads in the wonder of Him. Writing books can
make you crazy, but it can change you and floor you and bring you to
your knees when a young woman tells you she heard your heart loud and
clear. It’s okay if you get emotional when she tells you these things.
You’re prepared, remember? You have a brand-new unused ascot at the