Warning: this is a no-edit zone…
Writers who aspire to be published too often are willing to settle for any publication. They are under the impression that if they can just get published, then they’ll prove their worth as a writer.
Dispel that myth. Getting published isn’t, or shouldn’t be the goal. Being published well … now that’s a worthy aspiration.
Why is being published well significant?
Let me share an example…
Recently, I attended a conference and taught several workshops. Other writers were there teaching, too, including a New York Times bestseller, who confessed to me that he was embarrassed by earning a living writing–something that came so naturally to him and that he didn’t have to struggle to do.
I said, “Wait a minute. Just a minute.”
Because something comes naturally to you, that doesn’t mean it holds little value. That was his implication. One that begged for a different perspective.
He thought that because writing was easy for him, it was easy for everyone; anyone could do it. (Anyone who has wrestled with getting a book, a scene, a paragraph or sentence or word just right will disagree.)
After a few minutes of conversation on this topic, it became apparent that what he really thought was that writing novels was frivolous. And that told me more than anything he had not experienced the power of novels to open minds or change lives. It also told me he had never been exposed to the value of his work.
And so I shared an insight I’d gained.
“Imagine,” I said, “that it’s the dark hours before dawn. You are in a room. It’s deathly quiet, except for the beeping sounds of monitors. You’re sitting in a chair next to a hospital bed. Someone you love more than life itself is in that bed. Dying.”
I had his attention; his focus was intense.
“Yes, you’re keeping vigil. On deathwatch. Waiting for death to claim this person you love. There is no hope of reprieve. There is no escaping this reality. Death will come . . . in its own time. All you can do is wait.
“You’re tired, weary, heartsick. You can’t leave; if you weren’t there when Death came, you’d never forgive yourself. Though your loved one hasn’t been awake, s/he could awaken, and what if s/he did, and you were gone?
“You can’t do it. Can’t walk out of that room, can’t bear to stay in it. So you pick up a book, knowing you won’t be able to focus, but needing, craving anything that resembles normal. Anything that doesn’t involve death and grief and losing someone you love.
“And so you open the book and read a few words. You glance over at your loved one, watching to make sure his/her chest is still rising and falling in a steady pattern; s/he is still with you. You clasp his/her hand … and read a little more.
“Before you realize it, you’ve turned the page, and then another, and you’re suddenly startled to realize you’ve gotten caught up in the story. You guiltily check your loved one–still breathing–then the clock. Five full minutes have passed.
“Five minutes where you didn’t think of death and dying and grief and mourning. Five minutes where your mind wasn’t filled with all of the pain you feel and all the emptiness to come. Five minutes of reprieve…”
Solemn, sober now, he nodded.
I nodded back. “Now, crawl into the mind and heart of the person sitting beside that bed and tell me,” I said. “What are those five minutes worth?”
It was a rhetorical question. I didn’t expect an answer. But every writer should ask it of themselves. I know what the value of that time was to me. It was enough to make all the irritations and annoyances and instabilities in this career mean nothing. The ability to grant someone–anyone in that kind of pain–five minutes’ reprieve is significant.
So writers, ask yourself what giving someone in that position five minutes’ reprieve is worth to you. Imagine what you think it’s worth to them.
Do those two things, and you will cease to not understand the magnanimity of your gift of storytelling. You will cease to underestimate the value of entertainment. You will know why it isn’t enough to be published and why it is vitally important to be published well.
Not just to you, the writer. But to readers. One of whom well might be sitting in that hospital room in his or her darkest of nights waiting, craving even a minute’s reprieve that might be found in your story…