Right before Thanksgiving I took a nice, nine-hour trip to the emergency room, after having prolonged going to the hospital over the weekend, and losing many hours of sleep in the process. However, by Monday morning I knew I hadn’t any choice but to go.
I don’t know if you have ever experienced an E.R. on a day close to a holiday, but I can say from experience that it is a mad house. The elderly with no next of kin, are dumped on the drop-off curb alone by inconvenienced neighbors; young men, beaten and banged up, argue with their parole officers over who is to blame for getting dragged out in the middle of the night; and then there are the real emergencies like heart attacks and gunshot wounds. It’s depressing to say the least, and you can understand my reasoning for not jumping up to check myself in.
My problem was only slightly severe compared to the man in the next room, who seemed to have the understaffed orderlies running around like chickens with their heads cut off. He was from the Congo, understood minimal English, and he needed a blood transfusion quickly despite the road block of him having AIDs. I could hear the RNs on the phone all day, trying to get translators to come in and explain to the man the procedures they needed to perform. Of course everyone was on vacation already, and no one could be bothered for an immigrant.
I could hear his breathing machine and heart rate beeping like sonar through the thin, sheet rock wall between us, and in the longer stretches of silence I held my breath, hoping it wasn’t his last. I felt bad asking for anything that took away from the attention of his care. My white blood cell count was unusually high, due to a sharp stabbing pain in my lower abdomen, and I was being sent from one radiology room to the next with little to no explanation.
And in the midst of all this, all I wanted to do is get back home and work on a deadline. I was in the process of applying for a writing fellowship, and the due date was sneaking up on me. My health was just being a nuisance.
At one point I even said to the doctor, “I don’t want any pain killers in my system, because later I need to write with a clear head.” While I’m there writhing in discomfort on the examination table.
Of course she gave me a look, like I was the crazy one. But the message was passed from one shift change to the next: No drugs for the girl in RM 101. Just figure out what is wrong, and get her the hell out of here.
By the third attendant change, I had two (dare I say this? hunky) medical students giving me an ultrasound, and one of them started up conversation as the other rolled the instrument covered in jelly across my belly. I tried not to wince too much.
“So, I hear you write.”
I nod. “I’m in grad school.”
“What do you write?”
“I’m studying fiction, but I write other things too. Poetry. Essays—Ow, ow, ow!”
“That hurt?” The one with the machine asks me.
I fight back the tears.
“What do you suppose that is?” He asks his partner.
His partner shrugs, and they continue.
“Have you published anything?”
“Some, but I’m hoping to get a book out there soon.”
“Have you thought about self-publishing? I had this friend—”
I wanted to tell him I didn’t give a damn about what his friend has done, but I bit my tongue.
Instead I played the political angle: “I like the rejection.”
“Really?” He seemed a tad confused.
“In fact, I thrive on it. It’s just part of getting good.”
“Looks like a gall stone, but I could be wrong,” says the guy with the screen.
“We’ll write you a prescription for the pain, until it passes,” says Mr. Chatty. Then, “Good luck,” when he turns to leave.
Needless to say, I left the script and my Johnny behind on the gurney, as I made my way out of that terrible, sterile place. What a waste of time I thought, as I stopped by the Walgreen’s near my house for a higher dose of ibuprofen.
I made the deadline in the end, post mark and all, but what really surprised me was how comical the whole experience was. Not because I was subjected to the poking and prodding of undertrained personnel, but because there always seems to be someone who “has a friend” who’s self-published.
Don’t get me wrong, I think there is a place for self-starters in publishing, and that it’s an amazing day and age we live in where this is now an option in the industry. However, why I would never take this route is as personal for me, as the subject matter I choose to write about.
But the main reasons, which I would like to share here, are these:
1) I like Rejection: I believe in it. It exists for me with the same weight as acceptance. Just like we shouldn’t give all the kids on a team trophies for participating in sports, a hierarchy built on success is completely necessary in the development of character. Hard work and skill (not just talent), should be recognized. There is a ladder to climb for a purpose. How far we choose to push ourselves is a statement of how driven we are. I want to feel like I’ve worked toward something real with a level of self-worth involved. And just because someone says, “You’re great, but I want to help you become better,” that isn’t the end all, be all—it’s another part of the whole big-picture experience of being the best artist and person one can be.
2) If it’s that easy, I don’t want to: Is it really true that people want what they can’t have? Do we ever truly outgrow our self-serving tendencies? I kind of look at self-publishing the same way: as the easy way out. To me, it’s like saying, “If no one wants to represent me, then I’m going to put myself out there on my own, regardless of what others think of my work.” That’s all well and dandy, but those who opt to take this avenue, sometimes forget what this decision entails, which is largely a whole lotta self-representation. Because without a agent or publishing house backing you and providing you with professional marketing and publicity, the ball is in your hands, and getting your name out there rests almost entirely on your shoulders. Don’t forget it takes time to create anything worthwhile. Now double that time or triple that time, because that is how much more time you will be spending running the business of “You”. Not to say self-promotion isn't important, but I would rather spend 90 percent of my time honing my craft, than worrying about if my writing is going to sell.
3) Let me tell you how good I am: Society doesn’t take well to braggers. It puts people off and leaves a bad taste in their mouths. Running your own business is about telling people how they should choose you over the other competition. On the other side of the coin, if you were to become represented by a publisher, their advertising and brand would be telling the public on your behalf how great you are.
Personally, I am a consumer who doesn’t want to be sold on anything. I don’t care if they are a big business or small, don’t tell me what I need. I’d rather stumble upon new interests on my own accord. For me it’s usually the book I pick up off a shelf of a used book store, it’s a suggestion from a friend, or it’s borrowing from the library after reading over the “staff picks”. I typically avoid reviews from critics. I don’t want to be told what’s “hot” or “trending”. My taste is subjective, everyone’s is. So, when you think about how you want to be “packaged” keep this in mind.
Like I said, how I approach the writing process is individual to who I am and my voice as a writer. I don’t believe there is a right way or wrong way to the acts of crafting or expressing, but in a world filled with so many options, choosing the best one suited for you, is possibly one of the most important pieces in representing your art to others.