Everyone has a label. Sometimes, we have more than one. For me, I’m “Wife”, “Mommy”, “Sister”, “Aunt”, “Publicist”, “Professional”, and “Friend.” Truth be told, sometimes my labels aren’t that simple, especially when it comes to religion and politics. But, the one label that I am hesitant about broadcasting is this one: “Writer”.
Sure, I’ve written articles and press releases, speeches and blog posts, short stories and book reviews. But, I’ve never had any of my creative work actually published, and so I don’t like to tell anyone that I’m a writer. When I meet new people and they ask me what I do for a living, I tell them what I do for a paycheck and ignore my passion. That what I really wish I could be telling them is how, every single morning, I sit down at my laptop in front of a window and work on the four different novels I currently have in either draft format or brewing in my head.
And it’s really not for lack of time, or the fact that I do have to work to make money to contribute to our family’s income. What really holds me back is fear. It’s not so uncommon for a writer to be afraid of a multitude of things. For me, I fear rejection. I fear that I will send out my manuscript and no one will want to publish it. Or, even worse, that editors will tell me it’s horrible. That I suck as a writer. That it’s a good thing I never quit my day job because I lack talent. That my dream of writing a bestseller is not a dream, but a fantasy.
Last year, I worked up the courage to submit a couple of short stories to a number of literary journals and contests. But, before I submitted them, I hired a brilliant editor to whip my short stories into shape. With his encouragement, I took a deep breath and sent them out. Months later, the rejection emails started rolling in. My short story didn’t earn me a slot in a coveted fellowship, and it didn’t win a Moment magazine contest.
The rejection stung and I tried to shrug it off, but it still hurt. So, I buried my manuscript deep in the cabinet in our dining room and tried to forget about it. Part of me thinks that it would be better to just turn it into a novel as opposed to a book of short stories, but the defeat has been crushing and I decided to just give it some more time.
A sensitive writer, such as myself, is hurt by rejection and bad reviews. At least the rejections didn’t go into detail about my work; I couldn’t even imagine the blow to my ego if each email included the reason why my short story wasn’t selected.
Which brings me to my moment of regret. In 2006, I kept an Aliyah blog. It was a year long blog about my journey as a single gal living on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, who decided to take a chance and move to Tel Aviv. Three days into my sojourn in Tel Aviv, I answered a writer’s meme by a blogger friend. One of the questions that I answered was regarding a book that I wished had never been written.
My response in August 2006: “Be More Chill” by Ned Vizzini. Another young wunderkid writer who had been hyped all over Manhattan, I had to read his books for a client. The first two were okay but this one was so terrible that, when I got to the ending, I literally yelled: “You’ve GOT to be kidding me” and then launched the book clear across the room. I didn’t like the ending. Not at all.”
In February 2007, while looking through comments waiting to be approved, I saw that Ned Vizzini responded as follows:
“I didn’t have two books out prior to Be More Chill, dick.”
In a follow up blog post, I wrote: “Anyway, let me call your attention to the fact that published author Ned Vizzini actually posted a comment on my blog! Apparently, I mistakenly wrote that he had written two novels prior to Be More Chill. I am absolutely honored and flattered that Mr. Vizzini, an extremely sophisticated and eloquent writer, could use such a term of endearment for me in the comment section. So yes, Vizzini, I guess I am “a dick”. Guilty as charged. But no matter how you slice it, Be More Chill still sucked.”
Honestly, until the ending, I thoroughly enjoyed the book. So much so, that I remember sitting on the steps in my parents house with one shoe on, late for an important appointment, but absolutely engrossed in the book. I couldn’t put it down, I was desperate to get to the end because the plot had completely sucked me in. And, when I got to the end, I was beyond disappointed. As a reader, I was so into the book, that I had hoped more for the ending. And, as a reader, I was so disappointed in the ending, that it just soured my impression of the book as a whole.
In retrospect, I should have kept my opinion to myself. Because, as a writer, reading a blog post written by someone who didn’t enjoy the book is hurtful. As a writer, I would be equally devastated if my book was disliked by an editor at The New Yorker or a housewife in Nebraska. And that is my writer’s regret. For blogging so harshly about Ned Vizzini’s book.
On December 19, 2013, Ned Vizzini committed suicide at the tender age of 32 in Brooklyn, New York. He had been battling with depression. He leaves behind a wife and son, and a talented writing career that ended way too soon.
It’s too late for me to apologize to Ned for my harsh critique of his novel, but the lesson I learned from his life will stay with me for eternity.