The great thing about being a writer is that you can be dorky and awkward and clumsy and prone to small but frequent accidents involving ketchup, and none of that matters. What matters is your words. And you write them alone, or potentially in a coffee shop, and the pressure you feel comes from yourself, and not from the world. You don’t have to be cool. You can take twenty minutes on a single witty sentence, and then when someone reads it later, in one second, they might laugh and say, “Damn, she’s clever.”
The great thing about being a writer is that it doesn’t matter what you look like. What matters is how your mind works. What matters is your sentence structure, and your ability to recreate authentic sounding dialogue on the page. What matters is your mastery of tiny, meaningful observations.
You might not be worldly, but you understand the world around you intimately—deeply. You might not be the life of the party, but you can write a totally convincing party scene.
The great thing about being a writer is that you can be your regular, unimpressive, bad-haired self. And that’s fine.
Except it’s not fine.
That’s what I’m discovering.
Because all of the writers I meet in this city are beautiful and clever and fashionably-dressed. They are tuned in, savvy, trend-setters in fabulous vintage jewelry and brashly high heels. They are expert networkers who all already know each other. They are fiercely ambitious, intimidatingly social, meteoric, quick-talking women who laugh readily and always know what’s hot right now.
When I try to network with other writers, I have to be really funny, and my outfit has to be really cute. If I stumble over my words, even once, I feel their attention sliding off me. They are looking past me, for someone more interesting. Someone with nicer shoes and more spontaneous one-liners.
And I try to network with other writers, because that is how you get ahead.
Which is another disappointing thing.
Once I pitched an editor six times without hearing back. And then a writer friend who worked with her introduced me to her, saying, “Kate is an awesome writer!” and she accepted my next pitch. And then…that same thing happened three more times. I kept having to know someone to even get a pitch read. Which is not always true, of course. But it’s true enough enough of the time.
I thought writing might be different. I thought that maybe writing would be less about impressing people at parties, and more about living in a cottage in the hills, making tiny, brilliant, relatable observations about growing a garden that you then send to a New York publisher, who is happy to fly you up occasionally for fancy parties, where people already like you, because they not-so-secretly wish they knew how to garden.
As it turns out, there is quite a bit of handing out business cards involved. I haven’t made any because I am destined for failure and also I can’t think of a catchy enough design. It should be spectacularly catchy, I think. Unforgettable. It should make people laugh out loud, the moment they see it. It should make people want to offer me book deals. And I should have something amazing to put on it. I’m leaning towards “Empress of Everything.”
As it turns out, it’s important to be loud and clever and dashingly attired enough to catch the attention of someone who edits something. There’s a lot of assiduously building connections and reminding people over and over and over again that yes, unfortunately perhaps for their inbox, you are still alive. And yes, you are still trying to make it as a writer. You don’t yet have a business card, but you can be very catchy, really. And yes, you have the audacity to think that maybe they might be interested in what you are writing. Again.
(not the best for gardening, maybe, but I’d take it. source)
So now, when college students contact me to ask me about making it as a writer—what is it like? What do they have to do?—I want to apologize to them. For the way it really is. At least, the way it is here. For the fact that they will have to try to be amusing in person as well as on paper. They will have to reach out and reach out and probably invest in some cuter shoes.
And the other writers they meet will be strikingly beautiful, for some reason that no one can figure out, and they will be quick to speak. If you don’t say something soon, they will move past you and talk to someone else.
You will wonder why you are not funnier in person. You will wonder if there’s ketchup on you, somewhere. Somewhere other people can see, but you can’t.
You will wonder why you’re not home, right now. Instead of standing here awkwardly, at this event with all these other writers. You will wonder why you’re not writing, instead. In your pajamas. Hunched over. With greasy hair and food in your teeth and a glass of water and a glass of juice and a glass of milk because you can’t decide which one you’re really in the mood for.
Or maybe that’s just me.
Or New York City. The place where dreams sometimes come true, if you network ambitiously and devotedly enough.
I find myself dreading meeting more writers, sometimes. We are supposed to know each other’s resumes. And everyone has a memoir out, about family. It’s always about family. It always has an ironic picture on the front, that implies that something’s irreparably broken, but also makes you smile.
I find myself wishing that I knew more astrophysicists, and librarians, and med students, and marine biologists, and small business owners. I wonder what they talk about. I want to listen. I want to study their dialogue, for scenes I’ll someday write. And later, when someone asks me about myself, I will say, “I’m a writer.” And I will seem a little exotic.
They might wonder if I keep a cottage somewhere, in the hills, where I am planning a garden.
* * *
This is how I look now, when I write:
I’m kidding. I only put those shoes on for the photo shoots I occasionally do, alone, in my apartment. Because I’m cool like that.
How much networking do you need to do in your field?
Unroast: Today I love the way I look in a short, bold, striped dress. Because I look so cute already, I will not bother to wash my hair.
P.S. I am tempted to include a lot of the other photos that came up when I googled “cottage with garden.”
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