The wrong thing

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.

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7 Responses to The wrong thing

  1. That, my friend, is a very well written post and such sage advice. Thank you! Sometimes I need to hear/read stuff like that.

  2. lucinda kempe says:

    Amen! Beautifully wrote too!

  3. Sandra Hodge says:

    Open the door for lunch sometime soon!

  4. You’re right! It shouldn’t matter if you’re published or not. What should matter is that you have written something. When I first began writing, I was rather hesitant to tell people that I wrote fiction, like it wasn’t important because it hadn’t been published. I was still in the learning phase and my writer’s group was pretty critical so I didn’t value the fact that I was writing – a LOT! Until I finally wrote something that actually wowed the group, I didn’t have the confidence in myself to send any of my previous pieces to publishers because I didn’t think they were good enough. Why should it have mattered that I hadn’t published the three novels or the dozen short stories? The fact that I had actually written all of that when I never seriously considered writing before was a pretty big accomplishment, in retrospect. It is flattering that, after so many rejections, a publisher finally had enough faith in one of my stories to publish it. I do feel pride when someone is surprised and excited to find out I am a published author, but that shouldn’t really matter as much as having written more than was published. 🙂

  5. ecreith says:

    Thank you, ladies. Maybe that’s what makes writers writers – that the work is the thing. mywithershins, I’m sorry you got a really critical writers’ group. I was lucky enough to have a very supportive one when I finally found a writers’ group. Yes, we do critiques, but we do lots and lots of encouragement.

  6. So true. I became misty-eyed when I realized my first published article actually arrived in my mailbox, but these days, I have sweet little pieces I’ll never even submit because no editor is touching them, if I can help it.
    So, really I bear part of the blame if some of my fame is based on work that has faced the blue pencil and lost, right?

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