I commune with a fascinating group of blogging friends on the Internet — kind of a wireless support group. Together, we write a collection of very different blogs, ranging from cooking (Wasabimon) to dogs (Champion of my Heart) to motherhood (Mothering Outside the Lines).
Even blogs I didn’t expect to be interested in have proven fascinating. See the Frugal Kiwi, which focuses on the most extraordinary, creative craftwork I’ve ever seen. I could have sworn I had no interest in crafts, but Melanie’s creations wow me again and again. (They also make me feel inferior, since I couldn’t make anything like her octopus in a million years — but hey, that’s my problem.)
Recently, one of the group members, Alisa Bowman, was emailing about her upcoming book, Project Happily Ever After. Alisa’s topic and her honesty about book publishing elicited long horror stories from other group members about their own brushes with and bruisings from the publishing industry. Everybody could relate.
I didn’t add my own war stories, since I knew they would take too long. After all, I’ve been toiling away in newspapers, magazines, books and blogs for more than 30 years. But I thought I’d add my own little history of How You Shouldn’t Be a Writer if You Want an Easy Life. Or if You Want to be Rich:
1979: I’m a lawyer. I’m also working in the world’s worst job, as an indexer for a legal publishing company. This is closely post-Watergate and I am obsessed with the Washington Post. I start telling my husband I think I can write pretty well, too, just like the reporters at the Washington Post. I mention this several thousand times. He finally suggests I should write and submit something instead of just yammering about it. This remains the best advice I ever received about writing.
I send in an essay about taking the Virginia bar exam. It gets published in the Post‘s Outlook section. I take this to be a Sign and immediately quit my job. Writing is easy!
Early 1980s: I publish essays in the Post and The New York Times. I work as a feature writer for the Charlottesville Daily Progress. None of this pays much money. So, after giving birth to my first child, I write a humor book about pregnancy with a friend. We call it Stork Realities. It’s going to make us rich and famous.
Mid-1980s through early 90s: I work for the Dallas Morning News. I publish another humor book, Parents: A Toddler’s Guide. I’m still neither rich nor famous. Right before Parents comes out, a marketing executive at the publisher calls to tell me my book has “taken this place by storm.” By now, I am older and wiser and I take a little bitter pride in the fact your heart can only get thoroughly crushed once. I hang up the phone and tell my husband that I’m a big star that day, but they probably won’t even answer my phone calls in a few weeks. What do you know? I’m right.
1995: Wow, I’m really successful. I’m doing a column for the Dallas Morning News, a column called the Frazzled Gourmet for Cooking Light, and I’m a contributing editor at Parents magazine. I’ve had a Hers column in The New York Times and a humor piece in Redbook. I’ve also written my first piece of fiction, a novel about a girl who gets pregnant out of wedlock in 1967.
Well, it turns out they can break your heart any fucking time they feel like it. One by one, the newspaper and magazine columns disappear, as does the contributing editorship. Just like that. I am also diagnosed with breast cancer. Strangely, the longest of my long shots, the novel, is accepted for publication as a young-adult novel. It’s called Don’t Think Twice.
1996: My newspaper column comes back. My cancer does not.
1997 to present: I write two more YA novels, do radio commentaries for Austin’s public radio station, KUT, publish a few assorted pieces in The New York Times, become a columnist for the Texas Observer. In 2007, I start to blog. In 2009, my first adult novel, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakthrough, is bought by Berkley.
My advice to anybody: I still go back to what my husband told me years ago. If you want to write — then write. Don’t waste your time or bore the world by talking about it. It hasn’t been easy, I’m still neither rich nor famous, but what the hell. For some reason, I love writing and am unwilling to check back into therapy to see what’s wrong with me.
(Copyright 2010 by Ruth Pennebaker)
Read a timely lesson about why you should always treat writers well, called
slipping in the shiv