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royalty statements

October 29, 2010

Yesterday, I got my sales reports/royalty statements for both my books. This was depressing and I have been doing battle with the writing demons ever since: Why should I bother to write? Why do I write about women no one cares about? Why don’t I write murder/sex novels? But there is something galvanizing about asking these questions because then I have to answer them if I ever want to type a word again. So, the answers: 1) I bother to write because I feel sick if I don’t; it’s not really optional 2) I care about these women and I write about them precisely because people do Not care about them and 3) I am not interested in reading murder/sex novels, so why would I write them? That is always an invigorating exercise. But the invigoration only lasts a second, then self-laceration returns.

So, then I turn to my personal writing history: I began as a poet with no expectation anyone would ever read me. I trained myself to expect nothing — no audience. no publication. I’d cast about for role models. There were the great female suicides. And Emily Dickinson. Her career still ticks along, but not when she was alive. Still, at least she did not kill herself, so I selected her as a role model. Not that I wore white or anything, but in the staying true to my art who cares if no one reads me sense. But eventually this was not enough. I want more than what Dickinson got; she certainly wanted more; hence her resort to all that ferocious letter writing. I am sure she would have blogged if she had the chance.

Maybe this is why I write the kind of books I write, the kind that attempt to give the other Emily Dickinsons, the women we don’t know and who did not have enough of a chance, another chance — a chance to be heard. A few weeks ago, my shrink asked me who I am trying to rescue. I don’t know. Me, my mom, my sisters. Mary Wollstonecraft, Anne Bradstreet, even Hagar — but what from? Silence. Obscurity. Being overlooked. Being misunderstood.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Carolyn Cooke permalink
    October 29, 2010 9:44 am

    Maybe we rescue this kind of work from oblivion just by doing it – and doing it publicly. Anyway, friend, you rescue me!

  2. October 29, 2010 10:16 am

    It’s funny. I was thinking about you while I wrote and while I read the stupid statements. I am so glad we are going to get the holidays together.

  3. October 29, 2010 3:05 pm

    My royalty statements all say $0. So yours have got to be terrific in comparison.

  4. October 29, 2010 3:07 pm

    actually, mine are negative (because of the advances)

  5. October 29, 2010 11:23 pm

    I write to think. This might be because I am a grad student, but writing does feel like a gift in the rare moments when it isn’t miserable and frustrating. At a moment when even the fancy high schools that my university’s undergrads come from don’t value writing skills enough to teach them well, being able to use writing as a tool, for critique, for description, for argument, for sorting out the arguments of others, feels like a profound privilege. Negative royalty statements mean that someone paid you to do all those things, which is pretty amazing.

  6. October 31, 2010 2:32 pm

    That’s a good way to think about it, J. I feel better already.

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