Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised at how people respond to me when they find out I’m a published writer.
Full disclosure here – I think it’s pretty cool myself. There are days when I can hardly believe that I get paid to do this (even if I don’t get paid quite enough to live on).
At the same time, people who hardly know me tell me how proud they are of me, or how they can hardly wait to tell their friends they’ve met me. It’s flattering, and rather sweet, but also feels a bit – odd.
My own life doesn’t feel exotic to me; in fact, it feels normal. I do what I do, and the fact that what I do is fiction, or magazine articles, rather than accounting or small engine maintenance, seems beside the point. I suppose the difference is that nobody blazons “Lawnmower serviced by Joe Mechanic!” across the front of the machine – or would care very much if they did.
I sometimes wonder if we don’t place an exaggerated importance on publication. Hugh Prather in “Notes to Myself” (I believe) said that nobody congratulated him on writing something, only on publishing it. Prather himself thought that the writing was the thing he should be congratulated on.
I agree with him – the big accomplishment is producing a really good, well-crafted piece, even if nobody wants to publish it. Some of my favourite micro-fiction still hasn’t been published. I don’t know why, and I don’t really care, because I love the stories, loved writing them and love having written them. “I did that!” I think, and that’s pretty damn good.
At the same time, some stories I like less have been published, and get me praise and that “Wow, you’re a real writer!” reaction. It’s because they’re in print, or on line, and my name is on them. Same with my newspaper work – people say “Wow, you write for the Sault Star!”, but what they’re really impressed with, I think, is not that I write, but that Jeffrey publishes what I’ve written.
Please don’t think I don’t like the praise and the feeling of being a bit of a star. Most people like a certain amount of attention, and some of us are hogs for it. I love it that people like my work, and I’m not saying that that isn’t important. But what really is important – and what writers need to remember in the midst of that limelight rush – is the work. The work, the work, the work.
People are always going to notice the wrong thing, the publication, and that’s not their fault. It’s because it’s the only thing that gets the notice. The right thing, the work, is private until it becomes public. Nobody can praise you for what they don’t know you’re doing.
The task is to stay focused on the right thing. Bask in that sunshine of attention, but remember that the important thing is the private, quiet work behind the office door.