Monday, September 9, 2013

Gold Stars Revisited

    As we bid a fond sabbatical to TA Jeanne Marie, we are taking another look at our favorite JM posts. Mine is from June  2011, "Gold Stars."  In this one, JM discusses the pros and cons of rewards for summer reading programs. Shouldn't the act of reading be reward in itself?  This made m think of the larger issue, "Who gives gold stars to writers?"

    There are plenty of rewards out there for published authors.   Not just gold stars, but fancy embossed stickers on book jackets proclaiming this book was the among the best of whatever genre that particular year.  Some are more prestigious than others but still those stickers, and medals and plexiglass trophies are nice to have . They are a tangible "atta-girl" in a field that doesn't provide a lot of them.  

    But there are a lot of books, and comparatively few awards. Even fewer awards mean anything in the way of prestige or, let's face it, book sales. That is if you have first been rewarded by being  published. Some of us, (most of us?) toil year after year, page after page, with nothing more than a bunch of rejection letter/emails to show for our efforts. In the ultimate downer, many publishers, in the interest of saving time and paper, don't even send out rejections any more. If you don't hear anything after a certain amount of time,"we (the publisher) aren't interested." Ouch. We, (the writer) no longer have the satisfaction of weeping and wailing and torching a rejection letter in the fireplace. (I can't be the only one who has done this.)

    Sometimes writing becomes just another thankless task, like housework or driving carpool.  Ralph Waldo Emerson said  "A thing done well is it's own reward." Mr. Emerson never vacuumed or was trapped in a minivan of eye rolling seventh graders, to whom your mere presence was a necessary embarrassment , since thirteen-year-olds don't have drivers' licenses.  There are days when I am either staring at a blank computer screen or playing Candy Crunch Saga. Either way, I am accomplishing the same thing. Nothing. And wondering why I chose to be a writer.

   Even being a published writer doesn't necessarily provide satisfaction. Soon you learn that royalty statements often arrive without royalty checks....because your books hasn't earned enough.   Money isn't everything, but it's hard to tell yourself that you spent years of your life writing something that is earning you only the advance money and not a nickel more. For most of this, that advance can be counted in five figures. I could make more moolah at my local fast food establishment.

   So why do we keep doing this? Where are the gold stars? For me,  they aren't movie options, or Newbery awards or a book going into a 55th printing because it is on the required reading list in all fifty states.

   I have to have hunt for those gold stars. Sorry Mr. Emerson, but a job done well is not it's own reward for me, because I never feel that I have done a job well. I am a terrible judge of my own work, by which I mean, I think nearly everything I write is terrible. 

   Every now and then, I do find those sparkly rewards. A student saying, "I loved your book."  A critique group member saying "Wow, I never would have thought of writing  this story from that point of view." External rewards.

   My most consistent gold star is this: writing is a compulsion. If I never sold another story, I would still write.  Letters, eulogies (I am the official family eulogy writer), this blog. Although a Newbery award would be great (so would a movie option) my real gold star is the knowledge that somewhere, sometime, my writing has connected with someone. Maybe someone like you.

Posted by Mary Ann Rodman


Carmela Martino said...

Thanks, MA! This definitely connected with ME. I'm so grateful that you blog here with the TAs. What you say rings so true for me and many other writers and teachers.
Sending you a virtual gold star today! *

Esther Hershenhorn said...

I'm officially awarding you MY Gold Star, Mary Ann.
(Maybe April can create one with her spiffy illustrator program?)
Reading your oh, so honest words and hearing your authentic and oh, so Southern voice ALWAYS inspires me to be real and honest with our - and - my - readers.
Your Fan Esther

Jill said...

Wow, MA, I love this. You have a way of hitting the nail solidly on its head.

mary ann rodman said...

THank you, TA's for your "gold stars." THe money is nice, the awards are OK, but it's making a connection with others through your words that is the real gold star.