I just heard that fellow WOMBAtista, Rock Bottom Remainderer, writer, and inspiror of other writers (aka “author enabler”), Kathi Kamen Goldmark, passed away today. For want of any better prayer to the lit gods to take care of her now, I offer them and you a rerun of the post she and Sam did for me a couple years ago. Her wonderful, funny, optimistic spirit shines through in her words. – Meg
We’ve heard it said (we’ve even said it ourselves): great writers write because they can’t help it, to tame the screaming muse. They’d rather write than do anything else in the world. Charles Dickens could write while entertaining dinner guests. Stephen King can apparently write while sleeping (no doubt having nightmares). Scott Turow wrote his first book while acing Harvard Law School, and his second book on a Chicago commuter train while starting a family and building a law career. These are people whose muses wouldn’t shut up.
Then there are the rest of us.
Once upon a time, Kathi had a nice career working for publishers as an author escort. Escorts handle the local logistics of author tours, guiding tired scribes through media appearances and book signings. Kathi—whose first love was music—made a name for herself as the escort with the best mix tapes in the days before downloads. A special favorite of baby-boomer authors, she began hearing stories of their abandoned dreams in former bands. She sent a fax to a dozen writers she especially liked, inviting them to join her in playing a rock & roll show to raise money for charity at a major book convention. They all said yes, and the Rock Bottom Remainders (a band that now includes Dave Barry, Stephen King, Scott Turow, Amy Tan, Mitch Albom, Ridley Pearson, Roy Blount, Jr., Greg Iles, Sam Barry, and Charles Dickens—none of whom knew each other before the first rehearsal) are still together eighteen years later.
A few years later, the Remainders were invited to play at a snooty writers’ conference—let’s call it Bluenose Ridge Author’s Retreat. The band showed up in time for a lavish welcome party—but only the “authors” were invited. So Kathi, the organizer of the band, sat in her room while her band mates were feted. It sucked. “This sucks,” she thought, only in more colorful, literary language. “If I have enough imagination to start this band, I have enough imagination to write a novel.” So she did.
Sam was, shall we say, “not a good student” when he was younger. Along the way he was politely asked to leave his high school—and then there were the arrests . . .
For many years the thing that motivated Sam to accomplish his goals, including writing and getting published, was one of the great motivators of all time: the imagined high school reunion scene. You know the one: you walk in and everyone turns, amazed to see you now that you are important, famous, rich, and noble beyond compare. Not to mention the beautiful woman on your arm. In keeping with his earlier pattern of not going to class, Sam never actually attended any of his high school reunions. No matter. The motivation was imagining the scene. Imagination is a powerful force.
Most of us, including the illustrious Dickens, King, and Turow, have experienced rejection and put-downs, real and imagined, deserved or undeserved. Spite, anger, or proving a point at your high school reunion may not be the most positive motivation for writing and striving to get published, but boy oh boy, it’s amazing how much energy these feelings can provide. The good news is that if you do get published, (and also get some helpful psychotherapy), you can move on to more constructive and positive incentives for your work . . . like writing your second book.
For most of us, the writing doesn’t follow the muse; it’s the other way around. So sit down and start writing. Once you’re on a roll, the muse will appear. Unlike putting on a bad rock & roll show (and we’ve put on quite a few by now), you don’t have to let anyone see your work until you are ready, so—unlike the Rock Bottom Remainders—you don’t have to worry about looking foolish in the eyes of the world. One thing we can promise is this: your book will never get finished if you don’t start it. And then what will you say to everyone at the high school reunion? – Kathi and Sam