The Hell of Being a Writer


I am having a horrible, miserable, fucked-up day. Two weeks ago, I attended a library event on the subject of being an independent writer. “Indies,” they called us on the brochure. “Indies” are people who have written books, then tried to sell them independent of a publisher.

I now fit into that category. My book, Bodies Unbound, was first published in 1997, but my publishing house went bankrupt the year it came out. My book had nothing to do with it. The publishers, a husband and wife team, divorced. He went to a book faire, re-connected with his childhood sweetheart and came home and packed. The wife had a nervous breakdown, and they went bankrupt. Ever since, I’ve been selling my own book.

After the main speaker at the library finished, the facilitator asked, “What have you found to be the best strategy for marketing?” One brave soul raised his hand. He said he had tried social media, blogs, newsletters, mailings, but still, he admitted, his garage was full of unsold books. I bet most of the people there had boxes of books up to their rafters.

In a silent moment, I raised my hand. I said, “I have sold 15,000 copies of my book by talking to people. Once people have met you they are more likely to buy your book. I created a one-woman show, based on my book, and performed it all over the country.”

I was done talking, but the room was quiet and everyone was leaning in. So I kept going.

“I’ve performed in theaters and storytelling festivals. I’ve rented stages on my own. I’ve performed in living rooms that could fit twenty people or more.”

The room was still quiet. They seemed to want me to say more. I continued.

“My book and show are about being a massage therapist. I’ve given over 30,000 massages. If I do a show in a town where I don’t know anyone, I call every massage therapist in the phone book and invite them. If I don’t break even for the theater, sound and lighting technician, I usually make up the expenses selling books. Before I quit massaging, people who came to my show paid me to massage them. Everything I did was connected; the show, book, massages. Then I started teaching writing classes.

I’d gathered momentum and excitement remembering all I’d done. Good luck stopping me now.

“To sell tickets to my show, I went into stores and talked to florists, beauty parlor people, receptionists, stylists, and bored shop keepers – and invited them. I will never forget a man selling flowers. He had a soft African accent. ‘I heard you on KPFK last week, so that’s you. The masseuse.’ We laughed with delight. When he shook my hand he gave it a little sway, like a gentle breeze. I handed him my flyer. The next Friday night I went on stage and there he was!”

After the library event, I realized I had a lot to say about promotion. I decided to write a book about it. Not a how-to, but the story of how I wrote a book and a show and had to promote it myself.

Trying to find the beginning of the book, I’ve gone crazy. Most nights, I can’t sleep.  I have become haggard. I’m eating sugar, drinking too much tea. Not sleeping. Bloated. Fat. The insecurity I feel should probably be medicated. Last night at4:00 a.m., I listened to a podcast from “Buddha At The Gas Pump.” Rick Archer was interviewing a white Sangoma from South Africa. Before the interview was half over I knew I had missed my calling. I should study with this man. I needed to become a Sangoma.

Thank God I’m seventy. How many tangents can one person take? I knew becoming a Sangoma was a way of escaping writing my book.

Oh God, the book. Where shall I start? Should I start with the night I was performing and the lighting man was fucking the usher in the lighting booth and accidentally turned off all the lights? The whole theater went black. I had to call, “Ross, Ross ,ROSS.” Or the time a woman fainted in the front row due to the heat of the theater, (it didn’t have A/C,) and too much wine? Her husband carried her past the audience, called an ambulance and the paramedics came with sirens blasting. Or, should I start with the time I was doing a book signing at a major bookstore in L.A. and the books didn’t get sent because my publishers were fighting?

Twenty years after publishing my book and one-woman show, I know my efforts have transformed me.  I enter the stage, or bookstores, libraries, or service groups, not with fear that they won’t like me, but with confidence that I have a gift to give. I enter the room like a panther; yellow eyes, wild heart, with a terrifying growl. Then I know it was never about publishing or selling or performing. It was about transforming me.


Writing Class Prompt:

What have you done to find yourself; yoga, meditation, writing, painting, hiking, going on vacation? Write about it. Send it to me.

There are two more spaces available in my Monday night class, 6 – 8. Please call to attend. 805 798-2930

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