I know, I know, its been two weeks since I’ve posted anything. First I was in New York City for AWP, and then I came home to the bitter reality that I had a few short days to finish a book I’ve been working on for certain publisher who shall remain nameless.
This project has been a lesson in many ways, both practical and spiritual. I found that I was often resentful as I wrote (who, me?) because, to be honest, the good folks at teh publishing house simply aren’t paying enough. I’m pretty sure they know this, and the truth is that I and 34 other writers signed on to do books for them at seriously-underpaid wages. We knew what we were getting into and got into it willingly. I did it because the project stretched over three months, with deadlines and payments at intervals, and I liked the idea of having a reliable base income for those months, even if it wasn’t much.
But as work progressed, it became clear that I’d underestimated how long it would take me to complete the book and I became more and more aware of how I’d sold myself short. Sometimes, I think, we have to truly experience something like this before we are ready to sit up, respect ourselves, and start asking for what we are worth. It got so bad that a couple times I wanted to just bag it all. I came perilously close to contacting my editor and telling her I couldn’t finish. But this would have been a first in my career and I really couldn’t see myself doing it, much as I would have liked to. So I soldiered on, because I’d made a commitment and signed a contract.
So the first lesson I learned was to value myself more highly. But the other one I learned may have been even more profound.
Part of the project required me to get Case Studies from people. I wrote a simple questionnaire which took at the most 10 minutes to answer. They also had to sign a release that their answers could appear in the book. As I went about my business over the last few months, I asked everyone I knew if they knew people who worked in the nonprofit fields and got many enthusiastic responses. People were happy to help me, they would love to participate and so on and so forth. But when I sent out the questionnaire, in return I got, well, radio silence.
This continued to happen through successively more desperate emails and requests as my deadline approached. I even asked them please just to let me know if they were unable to participate. That didn’t even get any responses. I’ve never seen anything like it before in my life. I was truly stunned–each one of these people had said they would love to participate.
(And let me be clear that eventually some people contacted me, and let me know they were unable to participate for good reasons and I am not talking about them here because I am grateful to them.)
I was feeling bitter and angry. And, as my Zen friend Derek pointed out, I was also deeply engaged in playing the blame game. Again, who, me? Yes, me. So finally, I just had to let it all go and not worry about it. But this experience made me look at my own commitments and integrity. I found one thing I’d said I’d do that I hadn’t finished and I immediately emailed the person and asked what I could do to make up for it. The moral of the story: really, if you don’t want to do something, just say so up front, okay? It is much easier on all concerned. Honestly.