Friday, July 07, 2006


I have had a long-running love/hate relationship with William Shakespeare. Yes, I know, you're shocked, but 'tis true. The Immortal Bard has been getting under my skin since the fifth grade.

One of his plays that really rattles my cage is Hamlet. Hamlet didn't work for me as a protagonist. I never connected with him. It might have been the royalty thing -- not like I'm going to have a lot in common with a Prince of Denmark -- but didn't he just get annoying after while? I mean, To be or not to be is not a question. It's a pity party of one whining for a better table.

What burned me was how Ophelia got a truly raw deal; I always thought her ghost should come back and haunt his dumb ass. Ophelia was a younger version of Othello's wife, Desdemona, who also went nuts and committed suicide. Sure, Shakespeare made it look like the Moor killed her, but if your paranoid hubby comes to bed muttering about you cheating on him with his best friend and how he's going to put out your lights, do you hang around? Not if you're in your right mind and want to live, you don't.

Hamlet's incessant whining aside, the word be has been on my mind a lot lately.

Be is a big word for writers. It's the better table, the one that isn't by the restroom or tucked behind a potted plant. From wannabes to bestsellers to has-beens, writers are forever chasing after that better table. It's what you do to be a writer.

When I got into the game, publication was the table I wanted. To be a writer, you had to be published. And that was the whole deal.

Brother, was I clueless.

After I published my first novel and tried to sit down at that table, I was told (among other things) that it wasn't good enough. To be a writer, I had to be like all the other pro writers, join their groups, fit in with their agendas, network and self-promote their way, pay for awards competitions with them, go to cons, do booksignings, impress the right people, sign with the right houses, get the right reviews, make the right lists, etc. etc.

After a while trying to do all those things didn't make me want to be a writer. It made me sick, and horrified, and sad; at one point it even made me stop writing. I don't blame anyone but myself for that. I was so ignorant of the industry that I was practically begging to be chewed up and spit out by it. Once I figured out that it was me, my stupidity, my inability to be anything but who I was, I quit trying for the better table.

You know what happens when you stop trying to be a writer? You go back to square one, to that place where you left behind your dreams. Mine was always to write books and publish them; the little table behind the potted plant where few people can see you. Whatever you call a person who does that, that's likely all I'll ever be. But as tables go, it's small and comfortable and quiet. I can invite whoever I want to it whenever I want, like now, or I can sit there and write alone, in peace. It's not the best table in the house, but it's where I belong.

As for that elusive snipe of publishing, the big be, I don't know if there is such a table. I've heard a lot of rumors about it but never caught sight of it. I suspect no one ever does. Writers who want to be something in this business are forever chasing a better table, like the end of the rainbow's pot of gold or that distant shimmer in the desert that promises water. I hope someone finds it, but it won't be me.

How's your table in publishing today?

*Added: We're still doing the usual Friday 20 today; I just forgot to title the post that.


  1. Thank you for this post. I have been wondering lately about the very issues you raise. You put it into perspective nicely.

  2. The internet helps, because you can dine from public tables without actually taking a seat at them. I'm not interested in offline writerly networking, or critique groups, or cheer squads, and blogs like yours offer all the insights I need. I like to participate with a comment or two, but that's the extent of my involvement, and nobody would notice if I passed by. I like that, because it reduces the demands on my own time. Attending a monthly prose love-in would drive me bats.

  3. Anonymous1:55 AM

    My publishing table is confused and scared, among other things. But I'm trying.

  4. My publishing table is also behind the potted plant, near the kitchen. It's an interesting place, much more so than being out there on show with all the other writers.

    Here, I can observe others, their behaviours, conversations, facial expressions; I can also tag the waiter as he comes out laden with exotic foods and I'm the first person he sees when he returns.

    My table might be out of the way, but it provides the best view, the best understanding, and, more importantly, the best food.

    I don't need to be 'out there', as long as I can wave to other writers sitting behind pillars, posts, and pots, doing exactly what I'm doing: just... being.

  5. I have a very nice writers circle, some published, 2 very published. We take each other seriously, even though our genres and politics are not always compatible. We don't cushion each other's egos.

  6. Anonymous6:15 AM

    My table is small, but I like it that way. I like the people I'm sitting with. :)

  7. Table? You guys get to sit down?

  8. I'll tell you when they give me a is crowded, I hear.

  9. PBW, this kind of thing frankly scares the bajeebers out of me.

    My view of a writing career never included a hell of a lot more than my ass in the chair writing -- or maybe talking to my editor to find out what changes she wanted me to make in my MS.

    I always had the idea that since it's a solitary profession, writers tended to be as solitary as dragons.

    Maybe it's that very lack of social contact that screws up our social skills when we do get together. Dunno.

    But what you describe? That's not a game that sounds like much fun to me. I suspect if I do manage to publish, I'm going to get a rep for being reclusive.

  10. Anonymous8:20 AM

    Noel, PBW rescued me from my table. I thought she was a crazy person, talking about writing, writing, and more writing instead of selling, schmoozing and whoring. What writer just writes books anymore? Besides her. [g]

    She taught me that you don't need to BE anything. You are or you aren't. She is. You are. Because of her, I am.


  11. Thanks for posting this. Last week I was going through the dilemma of whether to renew my RWA membership or not. And it all went down to if I wanted to be taken seriously as a romance writer or not. As it is, I already feel like an outcast because I'm not interested in entering the rat race (snagging the agent, or getting the 4-year contract with the NY publisher).

    All I want is to write the best story I can write and have it published. If that means epublishing, hey, I don't mind.

  12. I am in the smoking section, where I am glared at and given lectures.

  13. My first passion in writing is poetry. When you're a poet, you learn pretty early on that the only table is the small one next to the swinging kitchen door. I like hanging out at the counter of the coffee shop, myself. :) Lots of interesting folks to talk to there.

    Thank you for this post, PBW, I needed the reminder of why I write. I've been procrastinating on getting more queries out for the finished novel. The rejections were making me feel like a failure. Bottom line is every day I can write is a successful day.

    Publication would be super, but I'm not looking for that seat at the elusive table.


  14. I just sat down at the table again not long ago. I was lying under it for a while, too sick in my soul to do anything but go through the movements. But now I'm back and kicking ass! I love my small, little table with a window view!

  15. I've always had my own table, I felt more comfortable doing my own thing.

    Was there ever a publisher you day dreamed about signing with? Did you ever used to say, "I love the books SoandSo Pubs produces. I hope one day I can become published with them." Not because you wanted to be at their table but because you just liked what they do?

  16. I like my table. I have a few good friends I've made.

    I've certainly seen a lot of the drama that comes with being published, whether it's from inside the romance community or coming from a few catty individuals, but for the most part, I don't pay attention to it.

    I still belong to RWA and a couple of groups, but just for a few reasons... it's a tax write off, and I love my local RWA group. Been in it for about two years and I haven't once been made to feel 'less' because I started out as epublished, or ostracized fir writing erotic romance.

    I've never been one to try and fit in. Even in school. I'm too out spoken and I've got weird viewpoints on many things. And I'm lazy... *G* Trying to fit in would take too much effort.

    Since I never messed with trying to make nice the few times some of the more dramatic people came my way, it saved me a lot of hassle and headache.

  17. The long line to get "inside" keeps getting longer. I stand outside (no reservation!), peek through the plate glass window and wonder, "What does the Soup of the Day taste like?"

    I stroll on down the street. I'll take my family on a picnic in the countryside instead, or take my dog for a jaunt through The Hood.

    Thanks for your blog!

  18. I am inside waiting for the maitre d' to check my reservation and to see if I'll be invited in to sit and chat with all of the nice people.
    But while I'm waiting, let me just add my two cents about all of those people who complain and gripe about someone else's writing.
    To quote the Bard:
    "If we shadows have offended,
    think of this and all is mended, that you have but slumbered here, while these visions did appear..."

  19. Anonymous1:56 PM

    I be at my table tryin' to finish this book, girl.

  20. Anonymous2:57 PM

    I think I would really like to be able to sit at your table someday.


  21. Anonymous3:39 PM

    Pixel Faerie wrote: Was there ever a publisher you day dreamed about signing with? Did you ever used to say, "I love the books SoandSo Pubs produces. I hope one day I can become published with them." Not because you wanted to be at their table but because you just liked what they do?

    Professional discretion prevents me from answering 50% of this question; I doubt my fiction editors want to stop in here and discover that I'd rather be published elsewhere. Hypothetically speaking, of course. :)

    For my non-fiction work, which is still sitting on the back-burner at the moment, I'd sacrifice an unimportant limb to publish with Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. (imprint of Random House) They put out such a high-quality edition, and I've yet to see a Knopf nonfic book cover I dislike. Some of their publications: Bill Clinton's My Life, Neil Hanson's Unknown Soldiers. and Anna Thomas's The New Vegetarian Epicure.

  22. Anonymous6:54 PM

    Don't feel too safe behind your potted plant, PBW. Scalzi just put you at #6 on Technorati's list of top 50 SF writer blogs on the internet. ;)

  23. My publishing table is on the roof where I work and sweat (day job) because it reminds me exactly who and what I am ;-).

  24. With a high school English teacher who took ten points off a paper for each time a be word was used, I still managed to cringe with each emphasized iteration of be in today's entry (a full 28 years later).

    "You" or "I" cost us ten points each time. It took me nearly ten years to give myself permission to write "I" or "you" when writing.

    (I pretty much aced high school English, bypassed the first semester of college freshman comp, and was bored through the second semester of freshman writing.)

    Is there something wrong with me when I feel compelled to answer that my publishing table is in the dumpster out back in the alley where I'm intrigued by all that I find and enjoy the eclectic gourmet meals I'm able to create? The stray cats and I hang out together and trade jokes about the rats.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.