I haven’t personally known many published, established, successful writers.
There was Maya Angelou, met at a conference in San Francisco one year. Larry Niven, met at a computer conference in Europe while I was in the military. And there’s Ellen Sussman, met at a writing conference in Fort Ord, California, one year.
Then there are Lawrence Block, Orson Scott Card, and Sue Grafton. I met each of them in different years at writing workshops in Yellow Springs, Ohio. I enjoyed conversations with each, but especially Sue Grafton. “F is For Fugitive,” and “G is for Gumshoe,” were out and doing well, along with the earlier books in her series.
Doing well. Hah, what a cliche to portray that the books were on the New York Times bestseller list.
I was living in the dorms for that writing conference. I’d brought a bottle of white wine with me from Germany. Sue and I ended up at the same table in the dining room, and I shared my bottle with her. She’d just signed a big publishing deal. Her happiness and excitement were delightful to behold.
It was like that with Ellen Sussman, years later. She and Sue were fresh from the effort of trying for years to break through when I met them. As each put it at that time, “I’m living the writer’s dream.”
You know how encouraging that is to a writer striving for that dream? Yes, if you’re in any of the arts, you probably know full well the effort of struggling alone on your personal trek, wrestling with your demons and chasing your muse. There’s little encouragement. People often know you as that oddball who comes in with their computer or notebook and sits at a table, drinking coffee and scribbling or typing. Or you toil in secret, not daring to let light shine on your dreams of figuring out what’s in your head and spitting out stories and novels. Few know; fewer encourage.
All of these writers are met understood it, and were gracious and humbled by what they’d achieved, but Sue and Ellen were closer to it. The fire of struggle and the joy of catching fire still burned bright when I met them. I was happy to follow their success as it developed in the subsequent years.
I haven’t seen Sue since meeting her that year decades ago, except in newspapers, magazines, and on television. But her enthusiasm and determination helped me push to keep going and going, to never give up. There will be setbacks and diversions, and demands that can’t be refused, but if your dream is strong, you need to feed it and keep it burning, and keep going. It’s not over until you give up. That’s what I learned from her.
I’ve seen it in other writers, ones who I haven’t met, but whose story I still know. John Scalzi. Andy Weir. Kathryn Stockett. Lisa Genova.
It can happen. Just don’t give up.