To the Not-Yet-Famous Writers: I See You
"Everybody's gotta learn; nobody's born knowing." ~ Harper Lee
If you talk to any popular, successful writer––especially the ones who seemingly appear overnight and have best-selling books out of nowhere––they'll tell you about the many years they spent hustling.
They might have stories of taking low-paying waitressing jobs after college so they would be able to pay the bills while writing their books, like Cheryl Strayed and Elizabeth Gilbert. They might have gotten their MFAs and still taken decades for their careers to get off the ground. They might have gotten turned down by every MFA program they applied to. I even had a creative writing professor in college who drove a delivery truck while saving up enough money to go to grad school for writing. He wrecked the truck because he was trying to read Adrienne Rich's poetry while driving and had to get another job.
The stories of how writers make it as writers are all different, but there's one common thread: they worked their asses off and it still took a really long time. That's just the nature of the industry.
You've probably noticed that's the place I'm in now. I'm not shy about the fact that I'm 27 and don't yet have a book published, or even fully written. I'm not shy about the fact that I've been published in a handful of small literary magazines, but nothing that's going to land me a book deal. I don't hide the truth of my writing career, which is that, right now, I'm working my ass off and still I'm not yet where I want to be.
Because I'm an intelligent, independent woman with strong opinions on the internet, I occasionally get trolls and they're almost exclusively men (more like adult boys, man-children, grown in body but ignorant of mind... you know the type). Last week, a troll informed me that I'm "miserable" and "talentless" and that no one will ever read my writing.
The truth is, I have little control over whether people read my writing. I do the best work I can and put it out into the world. However, the market is saturated with excellent writing and, given the increasing demand for content about nearly every topic, that's not going to let up anytime soon. It's a good problem to have if you're a reader because it's likely there's more high-quality content of interest than there is time to read it all.
The harsh reality is that it's very possible, even highly probable, I'll never be the famous writer I always dreamed myself to be.
But there's one thing I know for sure: I'm neither miserable nor talentless.
Reading and writing are the two activities I enjoy most and I make time to do both every day. How can you be miserable doing what you love? I also know I've got plenty of talent and potential. I don't have an MFA and I've been submitting to lit mags for less than two years and I have as many published creative pieces as some people with MFAs have. One of my soon-to-be-published pieces was a finalist in three writing contests.
I'm no more offended by being called miserable and talentless than I would be if someone had said I was a kangaroo. It's patently ridiculous and anyone with eyes that cares to look can see it's not true.
The truth is this: all famous writers were not-yet-famous writers at one time.
Not being famous yet doesn't mean you'll never be. In fact, not being a famous writer is a precursor to being one. No writer comes out of the womb a Pulitzer Prize winner. No writer comes out of the womb even being a writer! As Harper Lee once said, "everybody's gotta learn; nobody's born knowing."
Trolls believe in a zero-sum world where if you're doing well, even if it's less well than they're doing, they're threatened by your ambition and potential for success, so they want to shut you down. Rather than believing there's always more room at the top, they want to make sure you never find out because they want to stop you from ever getting to the top. Rather than believing they, too, could have some of what you have, they succumb to their infinite insecurities and sabotage their own chances of success by worrying about you when they should be focusing on themselves. They focus on you because they see they're going nowhere and, believing there's a finite amount of available success and happiness in the world, are looking for someone to blame for their lack.
It's not your job to make these people feel better.
It's not your job to play small or not live up to your potential so you don't offend the sensibilities of someone with no sense. It's your job to do what you love, to do your best work, and keep on going. It's your job to be so busy writing that you don't have time to listen to trolls and naysayers because you've got too much work to do. Whether you're successful or not, there will always be people who find ways to hate you, so you might as well give them something to be jealous of.
Trolls will try to make you believe they know more about your life and your work and your potential than you do. They'll try to make you feel bad about not yet being where you want to be in your writing career, even as you're well on your way there. This, too, is patently ridiculous.
To all the not-yet-famous writers reading this, I see you because I'm one of you.
I've been one of you for a long time and that's nothing to be ashamed of. And no matter how small we might feel at times under the weight of the expectations we've set for ourselves and this incredible talent that we're still figuring out how to wield, we're still miles ahead of people who are too afraid to try or who are too busy cutting down others instead of making themselves better.
There are a lot of not-yet-famous writers in our ranks and I'm proud to support the work of the ones I know. It's good. I know because I've seen it.
I see you and I want to see you writing and doing your best work even when you wonder if anyone will ever want to read it. On the days that question looms in your mind, know the answer is always yes––your readers are waiting for you.
And I know mine are waiting for me, too.
If you haven't read my essays yet, or haven't read the latest ones, now is a GREAT time!
Check them out here.