“You’re Only As Good…” : The Intersection of Trauma, Fiction, and Publication

I know it probably sounds pathetic to most people that I identify myself so much by my career as an author – especially since I’m not and likely never will get rich doing it. I know there are plenty of people who, no matter what they say to my face, probably think it’s a waste of my time, because it’s not liable to make me rich.

 

I’ve always identified myself as an author… For as long as I can remember (back to even before I could read or write in reality), I’ve had that facet of myself, that identity wrapped up inside me. In my tumultuous childhood, writing was a lifeline, and the only voice I really had.  Life traumas have left me questioning whether or not I should have ever published, but never whether or not I should have ever written.  I think that’s the part that confuses some people.  They think the two are interlinked, and that if one writes, one must publish.

 

Truth? In some ways, I was much happier with my writing, before I published. The self-doubt and self-loathing I’ve struggled most of my life with didn’t invade my writing world until I published the first time… That was when the inner chorus of “See, you’re not worth anything” and “I told you no one wants you” and the “Why do you bother?” grew louder… and every time someone looks down their nose at me about “wasting time” or my “hobby,” that chorus gets louder still.  Every time the icy shoulders come out or someone talks over top of me or changes the subject when I start talking about my books, the chorus becomes more insistent.  Every time I schedule/pay for time to advertise, only to have someone else horn in, and everyone instantly turns their attention to that other person’s work, the chorus becomes deafening.

 

Truth? For every one person I’ve received an e-mail from about how much my work has helped them (and yes, there have been a number… I’m not discrediting that) over the years,  there have been twenty who haven’t even given me or my work a chance, and who’ve done the “snake oil salesman” routine, and told me “how wonderful” my work is, like I can’t see through them, and like I don’t know they’ve never read a word… not even the free postings I’ve offered over the years (and I’m not saying anyone has to read anything I write… what I’m asking for is honesty. If you don’t read it, don’t tell me you think it’s “wonderful”… I’d much rather you just said, “It’s not my speed” than lie to me, thanks.).

 

Am I bitter? No, that’s not the word I would use. Bitterness implies being angry at someone else, or a system, and I’m not. I know how this game is played. The problem is, I’m no good at playing it. I believe an author’s work should be able to speak for itself, not that the author should be out there prostituting themselves for the next reader… I know it’s a shabby way to look at things, and I’m likely to get backlash for it… I’m aware of that. But my truth is built on identifying myself by my work… I’m ashamed to say I allowed other people to dictate the kind of work I did, when I first started out. I allowed publishers to “sex up” my books, even though it destroyed the foundation of those books and characters, and stripped me of my own identity at the same time.

 

Who am I angry at for that?  I’m angry at me. I’m disgusted with my naivete, that I thought that was just how the industry worked, and that I had to go along with every change. I’m thoroughly annoyed at myself for allowing others to convince me I’m not good enough, that my work wasn’t good enough, unless I stripped away everything that made it me, and instead turned it into some kind of printed-page porno.

 

There’s a lot more to me, and to my work, than I think too many people give me credit for… And yet, I’m left with that rising chorus that says I’m worthless as a person, because I’m worthless as a writer, and that the proof is all around me… And, these days, without my identity as an author, I literally AM nothing. I keep writing, because I know that if I stop, if I pause long enough to take a breath, that swelling wave of self-doubt and self-loathing will drown me. And this time, it might just succeed in killing me.

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