Some thoughts on the journey — and the destination
Recently a client said to me, “You should be proud of this book; you can use it in your editing portfolio.” I thought to myself, “What editing portfolio?” While I enjoyed working on the book and was pleased with the end result, it neither had my name on it nor my vision attached to it.
Which led to me to ponder, what are my writing goals these days? At the beginning of my career, when I first started out, the answer was easy: I wanted fame and fortune from the publication of my Great American Novel, THE PIPE DREAMERS. Writing always came naturally to me and I assumed – incorrectly – that I could be the next John Grisham or Judith Guest, whose bestseller-turned-Hollywood movie ORDINARY PEOPLE was randomly discovered from a slush pile, back in the days when people actually typed and mailed manuscripts (remember double-spaced, numbered pages?) to publishers. I think Oprah might have been a teenager back then.
As anyone who has ever written for any amount of time can probably relate, I was quickly disavowed of delusions of greatness. So my goal became even simpler: I wanted to get published. And I did, first in small, easily forgotten magazines and circulars, then later in publications like People and the Chicago Tribune. By the time I turned forty, I was determined to make the move from magazines to books and my first nonfiction title, THE COCKROACH HALL OF FAME AND 101 OFF-THE-WALL MUSEUMS, was published, much to my great initial embarrassment. I did not want to be remembered as the author of “that cockroach book.” But in the early 1990s, the publishers’ decisions overrode authors’ opinions and I ended up on “Good Morning America,” with articles about the book appearing in national magazines and most major newspapers in the US. Not shabby for somebody who started out knowing nobody and practically nothing about the writing business, but not the greatest either when compared to my initial fantasy of being a literary lioness.
Through the years, my career has gone through permutations and twists and turns too numerous to mention here. This is a blog, not a magazine article or a book of essays (Link spoiler alert: Unabashed promotion for my upcoming collection – CONFESSIONS OF A CRAZY CAT LADY AND OTHER POSSIBLY DEMENTED MEANDERINGS). Suffice to say that these days, my goals have gone back to their simpler forms. But it’s quite different. For one thing, I recognize that life is short and that most of us are quickly forgotten, no matter how important we – and even others – may think we are. And then there’s the thing about money and recognition, both come and go at a whim and the reality is that you’re only as good as your last project. It can disappear in an instant.
So what I’ve come up with is this: What’s important and what is right today? Life is complicated and we are faced with many different choices and demands. For me, this means:
1) Work which reliably pays the bills and I can look myself in the mirror when it’s done. That would be the kind of project mentioned by my client in the first paragraph.
2) Work that is challenging, both emotionally and mentally. My medical writing, which I’ve been doing since 2004, fills this bill. It’s ever-changing and also rewarding, both personally and financially.
3) Work that fulfills my need for fun. These would be my essays, certain kinds of travel books and other satirical fiction, which may or may not be published or may or may not be a huge success. Yet they too are immensely rewarding.
4) Work that may be difficult and painful, yet needs to be accomplished because that’s what we, as writers, sometimes do. My memoir and guidebook, LIFE DURING WARTIME: A VETERAN SON’S ADDICTION, falls into this category. It is hard yet immensely rewarding and I hope to spare others some of the same pain I experienced. The sudden death of my son’s mentor recently reminded that time is finite and I’d better get on the stick.
The common thread that keeps coming up here is “rewarding.” And that seems to be a pretty good litmus test.
How about you? What are your writing goals “just for today?”
More information about my books, scheduled talks, and animals can be found on my Web site.
*Illustration is the cover of my newest book, CONFESSIONS OF A CRAZY CAT LADY AND OTHER POSSIBLY DEMENTED MEANDERINGS, design & art © 2013, by Melissa Connolly. It also doubles as a portrait of the author.