“I know a doctor who wishes he could teach literature. I know a lawyer who secretly writes children’s stories. I don’t know any writer, however, who hankers after an alternative profession. If you are a writer and you are writing, there may be problems but never doubt.” Gail Sher, One Continuous Mistake
I have been a writer for as long as I could hold a pencil. Longer. Before I could write my ideas down, I told them to my sister and her friends, or to anyone who was willing to listen. My life’s aspiration is to be paid for my writing. It happened for a year in college when I wrote a weekly column, and it was the happiest I’ve ever been as a writer. I believe that there will be even happier writing days ahead for me.
I look forward with pleasure and anticipation to the moments when I can write. I feel painful envy toward people who get to write books. I also love to read. David Sedaris is a god to me. I just reread Annie Dillard’s “A Writing Life.” I’m grateful for blogs and online publications like The Onion, too. It makes writing by funny, smart people more instantly accessible. I don’t have to wait a year for a book by people like Joel Stein, who is hysterical and who came to speak to the students at my school a few years ago. I feel spiteful anger toward the “personalities” who get to write books but who aren’t WRITERS.
In his stand-up special “Killing Them Softly,” comedian Dave Chappelle, discussing the Lewinsky/Bill Clinton scandal tells about how he has imagined being famous, but he never envisioned fame to the extent where someone could perform fellatio on him, and then SHE’D be famous. “Suck my dick. There’s a future in it. You’re now a qualified author,” he jokes. The last sentence is a throw-away joke, but it’s always stuck with me. Famous people write books to capitalize on their fame. In order to “enhance their brand.” Not because they have a story inside them dying to get out. Not because they have dreamed since childhood of putting words on a page and having other people read and enjoy those words. They do it to be MORE FAMOUS. The book is the vehicle to something else. As far as I’m concerned, those are not writers. Those are fame whores.
I am not a fame whore, despite some accusations of such from my vocal critics. You will not find 150 photographs a day of my perfectly made up face, my feet, or my children. I’m not using my blog to attempt to stir up interest in me for a reality show, starring me, so that other people can aspire to be more like me. My “real passion” is not photography, graphic design, or interior decorating. My real passion is writing.
What I love about a blog is that it’s a terrific place to store ideas. I can write an essay about something and either forget about it or go back and revise it later. Or maybe it leads to a series of essays about a single topic. Or maybe I just get to vent about something that nobody cares about but me. In the meantime, though, it’s published writing, so it gives me an opportunity to practice my skills AND get feedback from readers. It’s easy to find, so I have gotten in the habit of rereading older pieces, looking at them with new eyes, and either giving up on them as hopeless or working on them to make them better. The only way to become an evolving writer is to write all the time. And then to revise. And then to revise some more.
The way to become a reality star is to make yourself famous, or notorious, get a network interested in you, and sign a deal. You need a hook to get people interested. Something like having a famous father or giving birth to a special needs child (or a litter of regular children), or getting a divorce from someone with actual talent, or having sex on camera and having the tape “stolen.” Publishing your book can sometimes precede the reality show, other times you use the book to keep people interested in you (promising to reveal salacious details of your fascinating life never seen on the program) so that your show gets renewed for another season. There is nearly always a ghost writer, credited or uncredited. A ghost writer is a person who has always dreamed of writing a book. Who never wanted to do anything else, but didn’t have the interest of an agent or publisher in her own project. She was lucky enough, however, to get hooked up with a celebrity or “personality” and land the coveted assignment of making that person appear to be capable of stringing coherent thoughts together on a page. Sometimes the ghost writer gets in on the ground floor and writes the book as the “personality” dictates it, other times this writer is an editor who turns a pile of incomprehensible drivel into a readable book.
I’ve often wondered how the ghost writer feels, seeing the fame whore on Today with Matt Lauer, or trading jokes with Regis and Kelly, knowing who really wrote that New York Times Best Seller. If it were me, I’d probably be glad the book I wrote was selling well. As I said before: the fame… it isn’t for me.
But the writing. Ah, that, my friend, is for me. And because I am a writer (and a bitch, totally unrelated), I look down my adorable little ski-jump nose at people who publish books, but are not really writers. As a writing teacher, I criticise the writing of students (with the intent to help them improve and never cruelly). As a self-appointed critic, I lampoon the ridiculous, over-the-top, self-aggrandizing prose of princesses and poppas.
Because I enjoy it. Because there is an audience for it. Because the way to be a writer is to write.