Being a writer is something I’ve been dreaming about since I was 10 years old. Even then, I was in love with the craft of writing, those hours we spend sweating over descriptions and characters and punctuation. These were and are the happy moments for me.
But there’s another component to the dream, one that no writer I’ve ever met is immune to. As a child, I imagined myself wearing chic black dresses, swanning about cocktail parties as readers and other writers and editors jostled to congratulate me on my last literary prize. I’d make a witty joke (perhaps something that worked in the myth of Icarus with Snooki from The Jersey Shore) and the room would erupt in appreciative, knowing laughter. This isn’t the most important part of the dream. It’s not motivating. It’s certainly not vital to my identity. And yet, it persists, even now.
I’m a working writer. I hustle for my money, getting bits of cash from teaching or freelancing or public speaking or radio work. I’m not a prizewinner.
When I write, like everyone else, I am in total control of what’s occuring on the page. No one else forces me to develop a sex scene or make the sky grey instead of blue. That’s all me. But when a book comes out, writers lose control completely. We have no say in what kind or how much media coverage we get. We can’t control the snarky reviews that show up on someone’s aunt’s best friend’s blog. We have no idea where we’ll be invited to read, or if we’ll get invited at all. And we most certainly have no control over the literary prize nominations, which is the one thing that our well-meaning friends and relatives always ask us about.
Listen, for the past four years, I’ve tried very hard never to address these things to anyone other than my husband and closest friends. I never wanted people to know that I notice those reviews or shortlists. But I do. I notice. And it’s hard to shake it off and just go on with your day. Because inevitably you start to think about what you could have done better, even though you bled yourself dry trying to write the best book you could. At the time, there was nothing more you could do unless you were willing to go blind and sleepless perfecting a book that no one would ever think is perfect anyway.
I’m not fishing for sympathy. Most days I love my career and am glad I’m completely unqualified to do anything else. Many great, surprising things happened because I published my three novels, things like CBC Radio and meeting my awesome, talented and empathetic writer friends. But let’s not pretend that surprising, disappointing things don’t happen too. My books are like my children. They might not be pretty or smart enough for others, but I love them ferociously, maybe partly because I know they’re flawed.
Maybe I’m just in a funk. I promise the next time you see me on a stage or hear me on the air, I’ll be my cheeky, cheerful self again. But let me wallow in self-pity for a little while longer. There’s a bottle of wine and a cocktail party for one waiting for me tonight.