Thomas Edison once said, ‘Genius is 1% inspiration and 90% perspiration,’ and boy was he ever right! He also said, ‘I didn’t fail 10,000 times, I successfully eliminated the 10,000 times, materials and combinations which wouldn’t work.’ Again, right on, Mr. Edison. I confess I am a quotation junkie, and have launched several articles with a quote from someone else that seemed to get the feel of what I wanted to convey far better than me.
I didn’t start out to be a genius when I embarked on publishing the story that had nagged and hounded me for over five years. And I sure got the whole elimination formula down pat, (though not quite 10,000 times). When my book was inching its way through the gestational period, I found there is a different kind of mind switching from actually working on your book or article, and actually seeing the final product in your hands.
I liken it to seeing the baby you have been expecting, as a little gray picture on a sonogram, then holding that bouncing, squalling baby in your arms after 28 hours of sweaty labor pains. No matter how bad the pain, you love the result.
Newer writers may sometimes think the pros forget how they felt when they first saw their book in their own hands. Years ago, I remember my sister and I doing what we promptly called The Happy Writer Woo Woo Dance as we twirled around the kitchen and did our best Arsenio Hall impressions. That happened when I had a small article published in a regional magazine, an obscure story of a boy captured by Indians in the 18th century. Not exactly Time Magazine, but oh did it feel good!
The pay was lousy, though I thought it was gold (and yes, I made a copy of the check and it hung over my computer for years). I was paid $25, and I had to split that with my sister who insisted she did intense research for me. But do you know what? I didn’t care at all. I had a byline, and we sent out for pizza with the slim celebratory profits.
Since then, I have been paid well for newspaper articles, magazine pieces and interviews in my special writing niche of Native American history, events, human interest stories, and now, Christian Native American writing. I have long gotten over the excitement of seeing my byline in print, and now look first at the check to make sure my name is spelled right.
But I was not prepared for the rush of feeling that encompassed me when, after a lot of research, numerous rewrites, the editing (‘slicing and dicing’) cover art anxiety, and a lot of prayer, I opened the mail and saw my book Echoes of a Silent River actually in print! As Christopher Morley said, ‘When you sell a man a book, you don’t sell him just 12 ounces of paper and ink and glue, you sell him a whole new life.’ And that was my intent. I wanted to make a difference with this book. I wanted to share this story with people who would be deeply moved. And I didn’t want just Aunt Susie to read it!
That feelings of pride and ‘Wow!’ washed over me and I calmly walked upstairs, passed by my family sitting on the sofa, shut the bathroom door, and fell to my knees. I said a prayer and thanked God that the risks I took to even do this book had paid off with the paperback baby at last in my hands.
The labor of the work led to a feeling of humility and awe. For the first time in my writing career, I felt that what Native Americans call “word weaving” is a gift, not just a honed talent.
Cassie Edwards, the wildly popular romance writer, has written eighty-four books, and has over ten million books in print. She told me how she found out her first book was even in the public eye. “I had dropped in a bookstore to tell them that I had a book that should be out soon, and they took me over to the shelf and showed it to me. They had already received the copies. I hadn’t even received my author’s copies yet! I was in awe when I saw my first book in print, and then took it from the shelf and thumbed through it and saw my name on each page. It was a wonderful cherishing feeling; one that I shall never forget.”
Even that really Well-Fed Writer, Peter Bowerman shows that it isn’t only those who write poetry and mass market fiction who get the bonus of that lovin’ feeling; but technical writers and all genres in between do, too. He says, “It was a truly surreal moment. Completely familiar and completely strange. Given that I’d self-published and hence, been involved in every single detail of the production process, each component – cover, interior design, layout – was exactly as I thought it would look. Yet, at the same time, seeing it all together and understanding what I’d done made it fresh and new and totally mind-blowing.”
That works for me. I adore words like Awe, Surreal, Cherishing, and Mind Blowing. Oh yes, Mind Blowing definitely works. And in my case? Humbled.
Each writer, when they have that first book in their hands, will have their own unique reaction. Whether you fall on your knees, feel your eyes tear up, or simply get goose bumps, that first rush will always be remembered. Always. You may prance, sob, dance or just laugh your head off. You may even call Aunt Susie. But whatever it is, be sure to enjoy it! As Dante said in his well known quote, ‘You only pass this way but once.’
Rebekah Fawn Cochran is a nationally published writer whose first book Echoes of A Silent Riverwas released in September 2003 ().She has branched out into Christian writing with most of her work being of concern to Christian Native Americans and anyone else who wants to take risks with their Christian writing. Her website is The Risky Writer: http://theriskywriter.com