Sunday, April 10, 2011

What, no mansion in the hills?

Today, I welcome fellow Ottawa crime writer Brenda Chapman as my guest. Brenda is the author of the Jennifer Bannon mystery series for young adults. She has also published several short stories in magazines and When Boomers Go Bad, and in 2010 released In Winter's Grip, an adult murder mystery. She recently released The Second Wife, an Orca adult Rapid Reads mystery and her YA novel, Second Chances, will be released by Dundurn in spring 2012. Brenda is a former teacher and currently works as a senior communications advisor in Ottawa. Today she muses about the secret joys of a writing career.

Before the joyous day when my first manuscript was accepted for publication, I attended a weekend writing convention. The shiniest bit of wisdom I recall from the two-day event came from a published children’s author who stood before us and proclaimed, “Do not think that being published will change your life . . . because it won’t. The hard work begins after you get published, and the returns are small.”

Her words were a dose of reality that I’ve returned to on numerous occasions throughout my writing journey. They have made me appreciate the wonderful moments and lessened the angst of the not-so-great experiences. They’ve made sitting in malls with no customers in sight bearable. They’ve given me perspective.

I would, however, argue that not all returns have been small.

The first time that I saw my first book Running Scared listed on Amazon was a huge thrill. So too were the first book review; the rapt attention of kids during a reading; the e-mails from readers; the friendships; the conferences; the motivation to keep writing; the immeasurable, unwavering support from so many; and, recent reviews in the Globe and Mail and the Hamilton Spectator for my first adult mystery In Winter's Grip. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that even after seven years in the business, I am still delighted to hold the first copy of a hot-off-the-press book; to see it make its way into stores and libraries and people’s bookshelves — to know that somewhere, someone at this moment, has my book on their bedside table, waiting to be read.

And yet, I have not given up my day job. I’ve had moments, days of utter frustration with the state of the book business and the difficulty staying afloat. I’ve despaired at the politics inherent to the industry and just how hard it is to make a mark or a living in the publishing world. I’ve questioned whether my work is good enough. There are even times, I’ve thought about not writing any more books, just packing up my tent and finding a new challenge. This is when I recognize a fundamental truth about myself.

I do not need writing to change my life; I just need to write.

And perhaps this is what that children’s author was really saying all those years ago: guard yourself against the disappointments that are sure to arise, and stay true to yourself no matter the level of success you achieve. Keep writing for the satisfaction it brings you, and don’t lose faith in yourself because of the business end of writing.

I am certainly glad that I had this dose of reality early on in my career. The advice has helped me to persevere, and oddly enough, to strive harder while keeping expectations in check. It has made me stop now and then to value the many good memories I’m making along the way, and to remember why I began writing in the first place.


Diane said...

Thanks for the wonderful post. We all need to remember this, especially is those hard, dry times.

Rick Blechta said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rick Blechta said...

Let's face it, for most authors it's hard, dry times all the time. The best antidote for that is to write. Thanks for the reminder, Brenda!

Donis Casey said...

Amen, Brenda.