Taking Ourselves Seriously
I'll be giving my first presentation as an author tomorrow night, at an event put on by the Lighthouse Writers Workshop in Denver. I'm one of several panelists who have books coming out in 2010. Yet the other night, when I told a woman I was going to China in April to do research for my upcoming novel, she said something to this effect, "I think that's great. It shows that you take yourself seriously. You don't question whether you should go. You're a writer, so you're going."
I appreciated her support. However, it gave me something to think about. My head rang with the same reply over and over, "Of course I take myself seriously. Why wouldn't I?" That's not to say that I was offended by her comment. Rather, that I recognized an underlying assumption: that a person who works in the arts, or in a highly competitive profession might be afraid to take herself seriously. I've been writing professionally for 20 years, five of those as a freelancer, and my first book, a memoir, will be released this fall. Yet I'm not famous or wealthy: maybe that's why she thought it unusual or laudable that I would take myself seriously. But I don't think that's what prompted her comment.
The woman in question is working on her own memoir, her first book. It occurred to me that perhaps she was struggling with taking herself seriously. Until a writer sells a first book, she typically won't get paid for the years it can take her to write it. So she squeezes the task between other projects that pay, and people define her profession by those other projects. After that, it can take years to sell her book, a task that may or may not bear fruit. For this, she isn't paid either. It's a labor of love, not of money, and so to an outside observer it can seem like a pastime, game, or hobby. So maybe some people have not treated that woman's work seriously. And I know it is work, often intensely difficult, lonely, emotionally draining work. So, if she's having trouble taking herself seriously, she's only adding another burden to an already heavy load. I hope that's not the case; I hope she believes in her dream strongly enough to stand behind it 100 percent.
Until we take ourselves seriously as we pursue our dreams, it's difficult to convince others to take us seriously, and sometimes those others hold the keys to the kingdom of our dreams. In my case, those who hold the keys are: agents, editors, booksellers, and readers. But in almost every worthwhile endeavor that we pursue, we will face gatekeepers along the way who will want to know why they should be interested in what we have to offer. Unless we are certain that what we have to offer is of value, how can we expect to convince them?
If I didn't believe in myself, I couldn't have spent more than 10 years waiting for my memoir to be published this fall, and I couldn't head off to China this spring to do research for my historical novel. I'm financing that trip on my own, even though I will see no money from my first book until after it goes on sale. I'm working with a wonderful independent press, but because they're small, that's just how it goes. Ghost Road Press and I keep going in spite of the odds in this competitive business, because we believe in the importance of sharing stories. So you bet I take myself seriously.
But not too seriously. My memoir is called, "They Only Eat Their Husbands," which has made more than one person ask, "What does your husband think about that?" He thinks it's funny. When you gamble everything on a hard-won dream, you have to laugh.