About twenty-five years ago while a neophyte writer, I wrote a poem titled The Unknown. It epitomized my writing career up to that point.
My passion for writing had been usurped by the overriding fear of offending, hurting or upsetting others by something I may or may not write. Talk about the proverbial cart getting ahead of the horse! I was so worried about “what if”, that I was denying myself the most fundamental joy of being a writer: seeing my words in print. What a sacrifice indeed!
In time I grew to realize that no one person is ever going to like everything you write or agree with it all. But if receiving accolades was one’s primary motivation for writing, one shouldn’t be a writer anyway. A writer would gradually come to realize they had to write not only because they loved to write and needed to write, (which I do) but because they must also be true to their own convictions. Being true to our convictions is what sustains us as a writer, whether it is the message in a four line poem or a 300 page novel, it makes no difference. That has to be the reason.
No amount of money or prestige can equal that. Yet being true to one’s self didn’t have to mean scribbling words on a rock in some lonesome desert either. In the back of my mind I maintained that ridiculous notion that if I were any good, somehow things would just magically happen. But such a notion was just as fool-hearty as thinking one would find their true love when they magically parachuted in their back yard! Playing the market had better odds.
Eventually, I realized how foolish such a belief was. Why, even pros like Plath, Faulkner and Hemmingway received help. Not only from colleagues and friends but through the word of mouth network. I certainly didn’t view any of them as being weak, so why couldn’t I learn what every pro knows? Network!
Or as a former college professor put it best: “Tell everyone! It will be the cheapest way to advertise and the most valuable gift you’ll ever give yourself.” In time I would learn exactly how right he’d been.
The more people I told, the more people came forward. Not everyone was dropping “pearls of wisdom” of course, but most had something valuable to offer, even if it was just being supportive. It helped. And more importantly, it worked.
Just by voicing my desire to write, the dominoes had begun to fall into place from my first reporting post as a part time sports writer for The Community Press, on. While being a reporter, however, was not my ultimate goal it did provide me with my first real “mass” exposure. It also allowed me to hone my skills while working and perhaps just as important, opened a window to the public.
That post was the window that let me see what the world thought of my work as a writer. I considered it my first public test-drive. It was an invaluable gift indeed, to say nothing of the tremendous boost to my self-esteem. It was as if I had awoken from a long sleep, suddenly I heard a voice inside saying: You are a writer. You can do it. By God, you are doing it!
Other bonuses to networking were opportunities that sprang up from places one least expects. For example, an inquiry for the Prescott Reader led to doing a commercial review for the publisher. An even more unusual lead originated from a summer job hoeing onions that netted me one of my first poetry awards. A coworker told me about the contest APA was having. Maybe that hard labor out in the summer sun inspired the award winning prose! Or maybe it was just timing. The point being, it happened but if I had continued my vigilance of silence about my passion to write, it wouldn’t have happened!
When I look back on those early years I think of Plath and her struggles. As brilliant as she was, she still received rejection and criticism. And let’s not forget the flak Hemmingway endured for years for his writing style. Yet he managed to flourish and is now considered one of America’s best.
Indeed, even the greats pay their dues. But one can note, they were not quiet about their ambition; rather it was like a badge of honor they wore proudly. I wear mine proudly now, too. Recognizing that I will still fail at times and I will still upset others or hurt feelings with my words is an occupational hazard. But if I can say I did it in earnest with no malice, then there is no shame.
Now I can look at those lines of my poem and see them less like my epitaph as just a piece of work reflecting the all too common fears and worries of many budding writers. The building blocks of my career shall continue to grow just as I know I will let everyone know.
Katherine Marsh can be reached by email at: BluWryter@aol.com