"Why do you think you want to be published?" is a fundamentally different question than, "why do you want to be published," but it's one I've been able to zero in on a little better over the six months of my Goodyear-imposed cognitive dissonance. In my theory of the world, there isn't a "good" answer to the latter question--the main and truthful one being, "Eeee gee oh." The main truth being, "Since I was an infant I've wanted to be the center of attention. I like lots of eyeballs pointed at me. Look mom, no hands," which is true but not "good".
Now to the other question, I just finished reading another Michael Chabon book and I decided that if I ever meet this guy I'll say, "love your books. read 'um all. how about those Giants?" Because a guy who wins the Pulitzer doesn't really need to be told his work is good. That's now the definition of him. "Creator of good writing(asterisk)"
(asterisk) If you don't think his writing is good, adjust your priorities until you think it is.
A guy who's good-by-definition probably hears it a lot and would rather talk about something different, like baseball, which seems to be what Michael Chabon likes. And comic books.
But if I was pressed by him, back to the wall--if he looked me in the eye and said, "OK, WHY?" I'd say, "Well, um, Michael, I hate reading novels. Really. I hate the whole thing of reading the first page, knowing I gotta work at getting into the story, and then once I do get into it, I can never suspend disbelief. I sit there imagining you typing on your PC or Mac, dreaming up Zeppelins (by the way, I love the whole Zeppelin vs. Blimp thing--Zeppelins have more class, for sure) And I don't imagine the story as having a life of its own. But whenever I pick up one of your books I'm certain there's quality there, and even though I imagine your fingers hitting the keys, it feels awful friendly. Like I'm reading over your shoulder. And I'm okay with that if you are."
And he would probably say, "You twisted fuck. Leave me alone."
Now chances are good I could actually run into Michael Chabon. He lives in Berkeley and I have friends up there, and maybe we'd crash into each other on Telegraph or University, or maybe we know some of the same people and could wind up at a dinner party together and this fictional encounter would grow some legs.
"Michael, Zeppelins. Stick with that. "Zeppelina--your personal zeppelin alternative" Inspired genius. You have something there."
Heh, like he would need to hear it from ME before he believed it.
Ok. Now let's use this. We have logical minds. One way to analyze a potential situation is to imagine yourself in it and imagine what you would say to yourself in that situation.
So, let's say I was a published, famous writer like Michael Chabon. What would I be thinking? Would I be happy? What would I say to me when I came up and burbled something stupid about Zeppelins?
If I was Michael Chabon, I'd probably have burbling people approaching me all the time. Maybe not as frequently as if I was Brad Pitt, but in a place like Berkeley where people still read books for entertainment, I might be noticed once a day. And then my fans would approach me and they'd be tongue tied, because they would know me but I wouldn't know them so the conversation would be inherently asymmetric. But the onus would be on them to generate something meaningful to say. They might have a line or two of prepared speech about Zeppelins or baseball, but after that ran out, we're still inherently total strangers and unless they were slick, we'd not have anything to talk about.
I'd hurriedly hold my hand out for something to autograph, so I could get back to whatever it was I was doing before being interrupted. Of course, I'd plan to be interrupted occasionally, but truthfully, there'd be lots of times I'd just want to go to the hardware store or to Starbucks' and just get coffee or a 7/16" lag bolt without having to explain why I have this thing for baseball and Zeppelins.
Would I want to become a famous writer for that kind of attention? Probably not. I think that would be fun for about a day. And then it would be annoying and I'd get annoyed and I'd start being snippy with my fans, and then book sales would lag because I was becoming a well-known grouch.
Then if it's not for the fandom, why would I want to be a famous writer? Well, another thing is the lecture tour. And the publicity. I'd be on Oprah and Larry King and I'd spend anywhere from ten minutes to a full hour talking about how I invented my books and what was the symbology of inventing a character who's a Sasquatch who gets her feet chopped off by a big blob of nothing and needs prosthetic big feet. I'd probably be asked questions about my childhood which I'd answer honestly. But most of my life would be played through after about forty minutes of reasonably inane conversation, and then we'd need to talk about something more interesting.
And after I was on these talk shows once, I'd never be invited back because unless I'd starred in a movie or survived a fall out of a moving 747 or sued my own children for spilling hot coffee on me at my own birthday party--the entertainment world would soon discover there was little interesting going on in my life that couldn't be covered in a twenty minute segment including seven of commercials.
Well, there'd be the lecture tour. On Michael Chabon's website is a link to his agent, through whom you can book a lecture. Michael will come and talk to your group about something, presumably for a fee.
Now, what would I talk about in my lecture? The fact I've written a famous book does not suddenly provide me the gift of oratory. My public speaking ability would be fairly static, though I might have going for me that people expect writers to be introverted, and consequently less capable of providing conversational adrenaline rushes, and so if I showed up with Jell-O green hair and stood on the dais with an air horn, I might be able to be entertaining for a few minutes, anyway. Because fundamentally, I have nothing to say to a group of people even if they pay me.
There is one area, though, where I could provide some value. The Q&A section of the lecture.
"What advice do you have for struggling writers who have yet to make their first sale?"
"Try not to think about it too much."
But I still haven't got to the crux of the --why bother trying to become a published writer?-- question. On further analysis, even though I always thought I'd like to be the center of attention, I still value my isolated moments. Writing is a fundamentally solitary practice, and none of these trappings of success-- fans, appearances, lectures-- appeals to me in the least. In fact, they seem like the "work" part of the career I would loathe, but would know had to be done to sustain my income.
What then, would be the reason? Why do I THINK I want to be published?
Well, it seems to me that the primary issue of writers and writing is that all the attention is paid to the outcome. The world concentrates on the existence of the physical book and how well it did in this market or that, whether it won a prize and if there'll be a screenplay version. Which critic liked it and which thought it was trite. By the time you get to that part, the writer is a vestigial appendage to his own creation.
The sitting down and typing is ignored, presumed, and otherwise discounted. Yet, that's the most of it. And so if I was a published writer, making a living at it, my theory is I would enjoy the being left alone to type, part. I would probably like it a lot. The whole--sitting and typing and being left alone would make the rest of it tolerable. So if I could make a living for myself and my family by sitting around typing in a quiet office, or even on my living room sofa with the TV turned off, or maybe in the backyard with my iPod, or perhaps in Starbucks by a sunny window, or even in a tent in the wilderness, that would be the reason.