I started this blog a year and a half ago, right after getting a rejection from a potential agent. She’d liked my manuscript but said I didn’t have enough of a platform to support it. At the time, I barely knew what a “platform” was, much less how to build one. My first post was about those feelings of frustration. I’d been writing for 25 years and trying to publish for five. I had been voted “Most Likely to Succeed” in high school, and I could imagine my former classmates snorting derisively upon seeing my life now. I’d accomplished nothing. At least, it felt like nothing.
Building a platform has turned out to be harder and more time-consuming than I ever imagined. How can I be sure I’m on the right path? How can I be sure that the path I’m on will lead to anything?
“Think about the writers you like,” my husband said when I’d come to him in despair. “What do they all have in common?”
I think he was going for “They didn’t give up,” but what I answered him with was, “Umm…they’re Jewish?”
He shrugged. “You can convert.”
I rolled my eyes. Was he serious? It doesn’t work like that. I wanted to be an Aborigine once, to escape from the soulless materialism of modern life, until I realized that you can’t become an Aborigine. You have to have been born one. I don’t know any personally, but I’m pretty sure they don’t take kindly to pasty blonde converts. It’s the same with Jewish writers, who are successful—I think—because they’ve been steeped in a culture that values art and learning.
“Even if I started right now learning everything there is to know about Judaism,” I said, “it still wouldn’t help me take over the entertainment industry.”
I think this was the point where my husband looked at me in disbelief.
I looked out the window and sighed wistfully. “They’re such an intellectual people.”
Every time I start despairing about my lack of success as a writer, this is what comes up: It’s too late. I’m behind the curve. Shouldn’t I get some kind of handicap for my small-town childhood? Like in golf? Come on, people. Level the playing field. Or the golf course or whatever.
Whenever I come upon a writer who is better connected than I am—better known and more widely read—I get a suffocating feeling. I think, There is no room for me here. Even though I have been reminded time and time again by successful writers that there is room for everyone, I still feel like I’m trying to squeeze into an overcrowded elevator. Or like I’m sitting at Happy Hour fading into the background while everyone talks over me. Eventually I just stop trying to talk and start drinking a lot.
Right now I’m panicking and ruing my choice of “Abby” for a pen name, because there’s a better-established Abby in the blogosphere. I’ve known she exists for some time, and I’ve been circling her warily, thinking about poking her with a stick to see if she bites. Abby Has Issues, and even though I haven’t read about all of her issues, I know that her issues are more interesting and compelling than my issues. And she has more than ten times the number of fans I have, which makes me afraid I’m going to get relegated to being the “other” Abby, like Black Debbie on “Sealab 2021” or Fat Neil on “Community.”
Blogger 1: Did you see that post Abby wrote?
Blogger 2: You mean Cool Abby?
Blogger 1: Yeah. Is there any other one?
Blogger 2: There’s Lame Abby.
Blogger 1: I don’t even know who that is.
Glennon Melton over at Momastery wrote a wonderful post recently about the jealousy—or more accurately, the panic—we sometimes feel when a friend or colleague experiences success. As if there were only so much happiness to go around, and she’s sucking up our share. It’s complete lunacy that human beings think this way—totally irrational—but they do. I pride myself on being a rational person, but I’ll be honest: Once, when a divorced friend announced she was getting married again, I utterly lost my shit and yelled out a communistic marriage manifesto something to the effect of, “That’s not fair! Everybody should be able to get married once before ANYBODY gets seconds!”
In her post, Glennon writes, “Scarcity is a lie, and the truth is that there is ENOUGH to go around.”
We bloggers spend our days wishing for, as Glennon calls it, “a bigger piece of thecosmic pie.” More publications, more likes, more comments. The stats never look good enough. Someone has “unliked” us—who is it, and why did they leave? Why are we not good enough?
Listen: No matter what we achieve, it won’t be enough. We’ll always want more.
There comes a time when we need to say to ourselves that whatever we have—whatever we are—is enough. I don’t mean we shouldn’t set goals. I think it’s admirable to strive to be eminent in one’s field. But not to be The Best. In writing, as in teaching or any other art, it’s impossible to be The Best. You can be only one presence among many. You’ll appeal to some; you won’t appeal to others. But you should trust that you have something to offer.
Someone will read what you write and laugh.
Another person will read what you write and cry with recognition.
You will make someone happy.
You will make someone feel less alone.
And for right now, that is enough.
I think success as a writer is something like success in love. Some people get lucky and some people don’t. But worrying about it doesn’t help anything. All you can do is be who you are, give the best of yourself, and, as Cool Abby wrote in her last post, “trust the timing of your life.”*
*I really could have used that advice when I was looking for a suitable mate, although I’m sure if someone had actually said it to me I would have screamed back, “MY OVARIES ARE DRYING UP, ASSHOLE!”