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The other day when I posted a quote from Gail Godwin’s nonfiction book Publishing: A Writer’s Memoir, with comments of my own that I hoped would be inspirational for struggling writers everywhere—because we writers everywhere are always struggling—Carolyn Burns Bass asked me to review the book for LitChat. I love Carolyn, always want to say yes to her—never want to say no!—but I thought: I can’t do that. PublishingThe book is a scant 194 pages—with illustrations!—and if I give it a thorough review, I’ll give everything good away. But then I thought: Maybe I can write about it in a different way. Maybe I can talk about the intersections between Ms. Godwin’s career and my own.

The quote I posted to Facebook was the following: “[I would] write because I couldn’t help writing, but live without publishing hopes”; and later, on the same page: “Writing had lived inside me since I was a little girl, and the need to write had continued to grow like a beast, but how to give it the room it needed and not become a bitter human being?”

If we are lucky, we become that intelligent person who can maintain two seemingly opposing thoughts at the same time: the grim reality of publishing and our own joy in the work itself.

Those quotes refer to the period of time when Ms. Godwin was still struggling to become published, a struggle that began in 1958 when she was still a college student and went on until her debut novel was published in 1968. Of course, after publication, other struggles began, as they always do in a writer’s life.

What struck me is that we all think our writing journeys are unique—and in some ways, they are—but for the most part, our stories share certain elements. Almost everyone faces years of toil with no guarantee of return. Almost everyone is confronted with the sorry state of dream vs. reality. Almost everyone struggles to not let bitterness over the latter engulf the good feelings about this thing we have chosen to give our lives to. If we are lucky, we become that intelligent person who can maintain two seemingly opposing thoughts at the same time: the grim reality of publishing and our own joy in the work itself.

It’s easy to compare ourselves to other writers and it’s a maladaptive practice we all engage in all the time, like kids looking around the table to see who got the biggest slices of pizza. The truth is, for all the differences we think exist, we have so much in common.

Looking at Ms. Godwin’s career and mine, you wouldn’t think we have much in common. And yet so much of her story rang true to me: the years of laboring in the wilderness; publishers whose enthusiasm wanes when the first book in a multi-book deal fails to earn out its advance; being orphaned when an editor decamps your publisher for a new job (at one of my publishers, I’m on my sixth editor… and it’s only my third book there!); the list goes on. We have never met, but we are more alike than different.

Moreover, we are simply part of a continuum. It took me two fewer years to get published, but hers is the more prestigious career. She’s been a finalist for the National Book Award three times while I can only claim two finals for a Connecticut Book Award and one for the Sakura Medal In Japan. She’s had 14 novels published. I’ve had many more than that, although far fewer than Isaac Asimov. Of course, Isaac Asimov is dead, so in that case, I win the not-dead-yet award too. Really, you can do this sort of thing all day: comparing yourself to another writer.

You know what else you can do? You can realize that you are not alone, even if sometimes it feels that must be true. Rather, you too are part of this grand continuum. And if you’re not in the game today, or where you want to be in the game, it’s no matter. Tomorrow, you may well be. As long as you’re alive, there’s still time to keep putting one writing foot in front of the other, until one fine day… Just so long as you’re not dead yet, and sometimes even then—hello again, Fitzgerald!—you can still get to where you want to be.

Now here’s the review: I loved this book and I recommend it to those who have enjoyed Ms. Godwin’s books in the past and to writers everywhere. I can give it no finer praise than to say it made me want to read those books of hers I haven’t and go back to reread those I already have.

One other gem in Ms. Godwin’s book that I feel is worth noting is when she quotes one of her editors, Harvey Ginsberg, speaking on the topic of reviews: “If a review makes you wish you had done something differently, file it away. If not, toss it.” That advice itself is worth filing away, as is so much that is offered in this fine book.

Now here’s the review: I loved this book and I recommend it to those who have enjoyed Ms. Godwin’s books in the past and to writers everywhere. I can give it no finer praise than to say it made me want to read those books of hers I haven’t and go back to reread those I already have.

A final quote that struck me on a personal level: Ms. Godwin writes, “One day, like millions of writers before me, I would leave behind an empty desk; however, I would also leave behind a row of books.” This is true of me as well. And I hope, that if this life is your dream, it will one day be true for you too.

Something about this reminded me of a quote from Marques Haynes, the sui generis ball-handler, best known for his career with the Harlem Globetrotters, who died earlier this year:

“You get lonely on the road, sure. It gets boring. It gets tiring. Sometimes you wonder why you’re out here, out on the road, but then you remember you’ve been here all your life and how you enjoyed it so.”


 

Lauren Baratz-Logsted is the author of over 20 books for adults, teens and children and a contributing editor of LitChat. If she’s not yet where she wants to be in her career, at least she’s not dead yet. More important, she’s smart enough to recognize how much she has enjoyed this life she’s chosen for herself. Her next book for adults is The Sisters Club (in August) and her next book for teens is Red Girl, Blue Boy (in October). You can read more about her life and work at www.laurenbaratzlogsted.com or follow her on Twitter @LaurenBaratzL.