Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Being Famous or Not

A few years ago, two other writers and I got together for a day in San Antonio to talk about writing and publishing, and share our experiences and ideas. One of the things we did was to look at a book I had bought called Word Work: Surviving and Thriving as a Writer by Bruce Holland Rogers. It had a lot of great topics in it, including discipline, procrastination, rituals and whether you should quit your day job. He also talks about "Matters of State" - meaning depression, affirmations, negative thinking and those around you who may encourage or block your writing.

The strange thing is that we sat there and did an exercise from the book called Pig Will and Pig Won't. Strange, because I've just gone through that book twice and I can't find it! Pig Will and Pig Won't are from a picture book by Richard Scarry. How the mind does like to trick us. Nevertheless, the exercise is about imagining what might happen if you are incredibly successful with your writing - what might be the great things about this, and what might be the negative impact. The results, when we shared them, surprised me. We all had entirely different ideas about both answers. (And if I could find my notes, I'd share them, but this must be my week for losing stuff, so I'll add them to the textbook, bill, magazine and brochure that are somewhere in my office).

I remember that some of my negatives were to do with not being able to walk down the street without being recognised, and much higher expectations on your next book. The positives are always to do with being able to give up your day job! Except then you have to entertain yourself at home seven days a week, and procrastination becomes a major issue instead of a small worry. All this, of course, was brought back to mind by the documentary I watched on Saturday night. It was "J.K. Rowling: A Year in the Life", made in 2007 while she was working on the final Harry Potter book (first broadcast Dec 2007).

I missed the first half, but in the second half the interviewer seemed to decide to get tough with the questions. Hence we had something along the lines of "The media says you have 574 million pounds - do you have that much money?". To which she eventually answered that she didn't have that much but she did have many millions of pounds. And the result of this is that she gets asked all the time for money. She has an assistant to help her respond to requests and decide to whom she will donate. And she does give away a lot of money, mainly because "unlike most politicians" she knows what it is like to be very poor and what it does to your quality of life.

99.9% of us will never earn as much as JK from our books. Most of us are doing well if we come anywhere near earning a living. Hence the term: don't give up your day job! But, going back to Pig Will and Pig Won't - what does being a famous writer actually mean? What restraints and extra expectations might it put on you? Can anyone understand what it means until it happens to them? When you're writing your first book, there are no deadlines, no one waiting for it, no one to tell you how it should be. With the second book (and those thereafter) comes a new set of expectations, issues and challenges. Something to think about.
And now I'm going back to find that darned Pig exercise!


Bonita said...

Indeed, the coin has two sides and I think the "glamrous" side is probably slimmer than the other.

Kristi Holl said...

I remember that I didn't want the mega fame any more than I want to be a politician--for the same reason. Living in a fish bowl sounds awful. Many people write because they're really happy with solitude, and the fame can do away with that. Not sure we have that option anymore though...staying hidden to write, I mean.

Sherryl said...

It doesn't seem like an option to stay hidden, does it? Now even fiction writers are expected to have a platform and be comfortable with public speaking and being interviewed. For those who hate that sort of stuff, it must be awful.