National Post writer Ben Kaplan’s article “A Runner Hits the Wall” grabbed me for its honesty about the writing life. Kaplan shares the harsh criticism, “awful on all levels,” he received years ago from a failed screenplay, and then his more recent disappointment at the cancellation of his book when his publisher went out of business.
“It’s almost embarrassing how strongly I came to define myself by the book,” writes Kaplan. “How are you? Great, my book’s coming out in April. It came to represent not only a modest payday and (perhaps) a bump in status, but a reflection of where I was in life: I wasn’t just another schmuck pushing a stroller through Walmart, but an author with a book in stores soon, a little secret I could hold over everyone else shopping for discount snowpants and baby shoes…. Imagine how insufferable I must have been.”
Every writer with a book coming out — or a book they think is coming out — should read this article. Two things really struck me. First, how Kaplan had to deal with the harshness of the criticism leveled at his screenplay. I cringed on his behalf. A thick coat of armour is a requirement of the freelancer’s life. I once wrote “don’t cry” on a post-it note and stuck it to my phone so I could read it during a phone conversation with a particularly harsh editor.
The second gem in Kaplan’s piece is the recognition of his own perceived insufferability. When my own book came out — a project I was commissioned to write — I disliked telling people about it, mostly because I think it did sound insufferable, even just saying it. It was a relief to me that the book was serving a particular niche market, and that I wasn’t actually expected to go out and try and sell it by the box-load. I could actually give it away! I’m not sure that even my armour — which is now so thick I creak when I walk — could have withstood that particular experience. I hope Ben Kaplan’s book does get published, his writing will be even richer for this experience.
Posted Nov.7, 2012