1. libraries and bookstores. Look at all those dead trees! Look at all those rotten books! Your book will be so much better. Look at all those shelves for your great books. Your books will one day share shelf space with your literary heroes and you will all enter the pantheon. Libraries and bookstores are harbingers of potential, omens of destiny, and, not incidentally, where you get #2.
2. books. Your shelves creak as you add even more books. Your iPod is full. Your heaven is a place filled with books and time to enjoy them, to savor them, to devour them. You prefer books to people, though people do have their place (i.e. they can give you a good book.) A good book is sex that lasts longer.
3. life. It’s where you get your ideas. Life is the thing you absorb so you can process it, chew and hold your ideas up against it to make your fantasy seem all the more real. Life and the limited world it comes from—that’s what you’re going to change with your writing. (Yes, life is number 3 down the list. That isn’t an error. Why? Because when you write you are god. When you don’t write, you’re…well…you.)
4. good first readers. A good reader will proofread your manuscript and find the errors you didn’t and not make you feel like an idiot about it. Good readers are very hard to find. Not unicorn hard. Good readers are platypus hard.
5. an excellent agent who’s a bitch or a bastard when they’re bargaining for you but never that way in their dealings with you. Search for agents with multiple-personality disorder. Try mental hospitals. (Or decide that in any venture you will encounter individuals who are human. You may even come to like some of them. The rest will make great gossipy stories at your book launch.)
6. an editor who’s careful and considerate. There are many. No, really! They want to help you make your work the best it can be to earn a larger readership.
7. a motivated sales force. The crop is of uneven quality. If you can, give them more motivation by offering a trip to your Florida condo for the highest seller. Failing that, make a great impression at the sales conference, smile and shake every hand. I loved Amy Tan as a person, so I sold more of her books. It wasn’t a conspiracy. It was just natural when I was selling to bookstore owners. “Yeah, I met her at the conference and wow was she great etc.,…)
8. a great book cover. Publishers may “consult” you, but if you hate it and they love it, they’ll go with the cover as is. If someone else is publishing your work, that’s a factor that is out of your hands. It will gnaw at you. You will curse them. Eventually you will accept it so you might as well start accepting it now. (Also, when your book tanks you’ll have something to blame that wasn’t your story and someone to blame who isn’t you.)
9. fans. Duh. (Yes, some superstars grow to hate their fans. In the social media/TMZ-environment, they are soon called “Uh…that guy. The obnoxious prick…what was his name again? Oh yeah. Has Been.”)
10. time to write. There’s never enough time. If you don’t have an official publisher-set deadline now (read: you’re still a wannabe writing on spec) it’s a blessing not to have that hanging over your head. Just write. Sip the coffee. Recline and give that revision sober and careful thought. You have more time now than you’ll ever have. After you sign some contracts and people are clambering for your next book, you’ll feel like you never have enough time. Ev-er.
11. ourselves. Inside every writer is an insecure, wounded child who started worrying about death and how they don’t matter way too early. Over top of that is a thick layer of pomposity and that is the egotist we love. How else to explain our deep need to share our thoughts with strangers? We love ourselves as we see ourselves. We want to share so others will see, hear and understand our genius, agree with us and love the broken child one layer down. We write to reach out. We write to connect. We write so others will share our visions and forgive us our sins. We write to hear our voices talk and prove we matter. We write to make worlds because they who make worlds must be gods (not spineless schmoes worrying about paying the rent.) We love ourselves so much we betray family secrets and confided stories. We love ourselves beyond reason because the world is beyond reason and we think so highly of ourselves, we have such hubris, we think that through words we can impose order. We love ourselves so much we glorify our self-hatred. We write for love because the love we have for ourselves is large, but it will never be enough to fill our hearts. We write for your love. And most of you won’t give a damn.