I am often forced to look at celebrities – where would we be without advertising? – and sometimes I am not too busy to wander how they (the really good celebrities, I mean, not the fake ones) felt when they began their careers. A lot of them get airtime telling how they did this or that and worked gig by gig to get where they are today. It’s not easy being a part of the biz and especially not beginning in the biz. I should know it’s not easy for the newbie. I am one.
I started my writing career in high school as a way to handle the social rejection I felt from a variety of people – mainly the popular ones. I penned my first novel, full of hope and dreams (Oprah, where were you?!) which I will never admit to, and finished in my graduating year of high school. I think I honestly sold maybe, if I am extremely lucky, 100 copies.
I continued my writing career in college because I was a now a failed idealist, now fighting with a world that had yet to recognize my greatness. I got probably as much back as I put into it, which was way more than the first one. I won a publishing contest and had my second novel published just this year. How’s it going? Last time I checked it was ranked in the 800 thousands on Amazon.
I bring this up to illustrate the importance of beginnings. It is funny – an ironic funny – how beginnings are often portrayed as a great part in life; you see this in the movies (ha! I know), relationships, sport seasons, school years, new jobs, and even new attempts at old things. I think we live in a world that is slightly fed up with the traditional, romanticized notion of beginning something meaningful.
Here’s an example: myself. As mentioned, my beginnings began out of insecurity. As a result, determined to overcome the obstacle before me and in me, I loving typed, retyped, patiently awaited critiques, retyped, rewrote, reworked, and added to my novels. I daydreamed for months on end, working out and weighing out the various meanings of incidents, questioned the existential value of every word, and finally, finally handed it over to people who rejected it on sight, or maybe even after carefully, considerably reading the first three pages. And then after rejection (or rejection by omission), I sobbed quietly and loudly over and over again until it hit me that I needed to stop crying because I couldn’t afford the tissue surplus.
The process repeated itself a few times with enough variations to maintain a soap opera. I got swindled by a ‘book editor’ and lost a nice chunk of rent money once. I left a bunch of unreturned phone messages to publishers. I searched the internet and finally found a few tricks which helped – if I paid money I didn’t have. I asked a famous writer who I was fortunate to meet once how to become a great writer and got an old-timer’s answer before finding out hours later he has between 8-100 ghostwriters.
How are things now that I have my books out? A bit better. But still more problems. I have to market myself, which is a fancy way of saying use Facebook. And Twitter. And get a blog.
I have dreams sometimes where I find out my hard work is for nothing. My dreams of writing are for nothing. It was all meaningless, serving no purpose. It is no wonder why I grind my teeth, which makes it even harder to market myself. No one wants a celebrity with bad teeth! That’s why we have to keep making remakes of older movies!
There are other dreams where I triumphantly conquer the world with my charm and obvious superiority, but I sell (or lose) my soul, rendering it all meaningless again.
This is my beginning. I am not famous. I’m barely out there. People who say they feel like nobody have no idea what it feels like on this level. I’m trying to entice the rest of the world with my writing and no one is paying attention (except my mother, God love her). Try being ignored on that level.
But…because there has to be a ‘but’ in all this…I am not finished yet. Does that mean I know what to do next? No. Does that mean I have it all together? Never no. Does that mean I’ll have to find another dream? No.
People tell writers all the time to write about what you know. Having been stuck in this ‘beginning’ for quite some time, I know what it’s like to feel like you’re always waiting, you’re never 100% sure, you’re skeptical and hurt and confused and hopeful but not too hopeful and cynical bordering on bitterness. You feel like you won’t be happy unless you are famous. You feel like you’ve given your best but the world laughs at you. I tell people I feel like my writing, to me, is like stepping out with my best foot forward wearing my ugliest shoes.
The important thing is that I do keep taking those steps. Working on it. Maybe changing ‘shoes’ once in a while, rather than trying to fill another person’s, or angling to step on the right person’s toes. Every step away from the beginning is another one closer to the ending. And I intend to go on until I find that happy ending. To all the struggling writers out there, I wish for you to keep the courage to do the same.