Earlier this year, I attended the retirement dinner of a well-respected architect. In his mid-70s, he is nearly as spry and just as passionate as he ever was. At the dinner, he shared stories of how he founded not one but two internationally successful design firms, landed his first big project, once took a mad scramble plane trip to England to deliver drawings on time, and his collaboration with legendary architect Philip Johnson. My favorite story involved his alma mater and a crumbling football stadium: when his firm didn’t make the shortlist to design the renovation of the stadium, the architect picked up the phone and essentially demand a recount. He explained that no other architect would put as much love and care into the building as he would. He won the project.
The architect’s stories got me thinking: When I “retire” many years from now, what stories do I want to tell? What memories do I want to celebrate? What do I want my literary legacy to be?
Like most writers – or all, if we are honest with ourselves – I want to tell stories about having my first book published, reading my first great review, even my first bad review. I want to celebrate that my second book was translated into twelve languages, and my third into thirty. And so on. I want my curriculum vitae to read like a literary catalog.
But what if I am never published?
How many times has this happened to you: You declare/admit/reveal to your co-worker/neighbor/barista that you are a writer. His or her immediate response is, “That’s great. Have you been published?”, thus perpetuating the belief that one is not a writer until one can prove it via paperback.
A writer pal recently remarked that she’d better find a publisher for her sci-fi/fantasy novel series, since she doesn’t know how to do anything other than write. I asked her: “What if you knew for certain that you would never be published? Would you still write?” She thought for a moment, and then answered, “Yes. Absolutely.”
We write because we love to write. But since we are human, we also crave validation that we didn’t spend all of those hours alone with our laptops for naught. We want strangers to love our books as much as we do. Can we be satisfied in knowing that our readership will never expand beyond supportive friends and family members?
Many people view their children as their greatest legacy; while I’ve never wanted to have kids, I’ve always wanted to write and publish books. I want to hold my newborn novels in my arms, clutch them to my breast, and nurture them as they nurture me.
Currently, I’m plugging along on the third draft of a novel. I may see my book published one day, hold it in my hand as tangible proof of a legacy that may outlive even the architect’s buildings.
But if not, at least this legacy will remain: She always loved to write.