Hello, internet friends. Newly hatched Emu Adi Rule here, optimistically flapping my vestigial wings. Bear with me, as I’m still learning which forms to fill out, where the cafeteria is, and that a “Wordpress” is NOT a type of helmet that squishes brilliant drafts out through your eyeballs.
Last year around this time, I was asked to be on a panel at a high school. Answer questions about Being a Writer. Judge student work. Free sweatshirt.
So I went. And I talked the talk. Query letters this and protagonists that and blah blah critique groups, whatever. But little did the students know that, unlike the poet laureate on my left and the successful author on my right, I was an IMPOSTOR.
Shocking, I know.
I grew up in a writing household. My friends and I were more likely to be found at a reading than a roller rink, not necessarily by our choice. My mom taught fiction at a nearby university. Sometimes I would go with her and draw dinosaurs on the blackboard.
As a kid, I wrote and wrote and wrote. Poems, short stories, my own NASHNUL NOOSPAPR (“TODAY AT THE RULES HOWSE, BABY DUCKS GROWD BIGR”). My first play was produced at my elementary school when I was 13, and garnered rave reviews from everyone’s parents, who were probably just relieved it was only 17 minutes long. (After all, you never know what sort of Hell an elementary school gymnasium will hold.)
At 13, my road to writerdom seemed reasonably assured. Then more plays, more prose, a novel, an MFA, a blog, and two more novels. And four cats, who are lousy editors.
So what was my terrible secret, a year ago, at that high school writing panel?
I wasn’t published.
It’s true. I’d had several plays produced, but not published. And I’d just gotten a short story accepted, but the anthology wasn’t out yet. I had no agent, no other contracts, no shiny books to sign and sniff and make piles of in the yard to roll around in (that’s what authors do, right?).
So every time a student asked, “What’s the matter with adverbs, really?” a small part of my brain squeaked, “Don’t answer that. You know nothing about adverbs.”
Fast-forward a year — or, um, skip ahead? Do we say “fast-forward” anymore? — to this past October, and I’m at the same panel. Sitting in the same chair. Eating the same doughnuts. Only now I’m represented by a fabulous agent and I’ve got a two-book deal at a bighuge press. I’ve gotten The Call.
Sparkles and rainbows and ponies and sunbeams and puffy stickers!
My induction into the Writers’ Guild was glorious. One humid July day, Joan met me at the airport, and we flew first class to a secret location. I was, of course, blindfolded, which did ruin the in-flight movie (Thor), but I sensed we were going north.
Two flights and a helicopter ride later, we began our trek into the heart of a dense forest. Imagine my surprise when, after several hours, Joan stopped before an unremarkable tree and fitted her signet ring into a knothole to reveal a secret door. We had arrived!
All the real writers were there, each one wearing a glittering tiara sized to represent their commercial success (J. K. Rowling and Stephen King couldn’t even stand up under the weight of theirs, and had to lie in a corner conversing softly). The evening was a blur of toasts and speeches and ritual sacrifice. Particularly touching was the moment when William Faulkner impaled himself on his National Book Award as a tribute to the bleeding souls of writers everywhere.
And then it was my turn. I received my tiara (very small), drank from the Cup of Ink (minty), and groveled at the feet of the Writer Queen (identity protected), who smiled with refined condescension. And when she touched her gilded scepter to my nose, I became a real writer!
Actually, I’m lying.
What can I say, it’s the only thing I’m good at.
What I wish my 2012 panelist self could have told my 2011 panelist self is that publication does not make you a writer. The hours you spend with a keyboard under your fingers or a book in your hand do that. Believe it or not, you will know exactly as much about adverbs the day you sign your contract as you did the day before.
And you were a real writer then, too.