Photo credit: John Green/afr.com

Photo credit: John Green/afr.com

Anyone who puts pen to paper dreams of making it big. What “big” means varies from writer to writer  -- being chosen by the Oprah book club, the chance to finally write that super quirky book that’s been haunting you for years, invitations to speak at prominent writing conferences in vacation spots around the globe, the opportunity to say, “I don’t have to take this anymore” to your boss.
 
I freely admit that with every single one of my books, I dreamed these big dreams. Seven times over I thought, “THIS will be the big one!” Big to me meant a lot of things, including so much money that I wouldn’t have to worry about putting my kids through college, and so much fame that I wouldn’t have to convince anyone about my writing ever again – including agents, editors, book reviewers or readers.
 
You will probably not be surprised to hear that my big dreams have yet to come true -- or that I haven’t really given up on them. Somewhere deep inside me, I still long to hit a grand slam.
 
I’ve been watching with interest as writer John Green, author of The Fault in Our Stars, revels in the glory of super fame. (Look at the amazon reviews for that book – 20,000!!) That’s a picture of John, above, with his adoring fans. When I saw that photo in the newspaper, all my “I want to be so famous people are begging for my next book” dreams came rushing to the surface.
 
I had flashes of thoughts like,  “Why did I write that story? I’m a cancer survivor, after all!” Forget that I already wrote two books about cancer that have touched a lot of lives, and that I made a conscious decision not to continue to write about cancer, and that even if I’d written more about cancer, it wouldn’t have been John Green’s story, and I wouldn’t have had the massive platform he built doing online videos…. I was still jealous.
 
But dig just a tiny bit underneath the surface and you find that Green actually hates the attention. As The Wall Street Journal reported, “Whenever the shift from Web fame to mega stardom occurred, Mr. Green, 36, is reeling from the effects. As a self-described hypochondriac who suffers from anxiety, Mr. Green says he avoids making physical contact with strangers and feels unsettled by the massive crowds he has been drawing during a nationwide tour to promote "The Fault in Our Stars" movie, which comes out June 6. Fans routinely show up at his house in Indianapolis. At a recent screening for fans at a mall in Miami, some 5,000 people turned out and the event was shut down early due to safety concerns. And he is struggling to keep up with his day job—not writing novels, but making online videos about art, literature, science and history. His shows have drawn 8.6 million subscribers on YouTube, and have been viewed more than 1.6 billion times.”
 
This does not sound like fun.
 
The other day I was listening to Fresh Air with Terry Gross and she was interviewing rock star manager Shep Gordon and Mike Myers, who has written about Gordon in the film Supermensch. Gordon is a fame-maker, and he knows there is a high cost to fame. “If you make someone famous,” he said, “they have to pay a price." Myers added to this thought, calling fame a “toxic waste product” of creativity.

Authors like Elizabeth Gilbert who have survived that kind of toxicity talk about how hard it is to live up to the “crazy freakish success” with the next book and the next. In her TED talk, Gilbert says, “I should just put it bluntly, because we're all sort of friends here now --it's exceedingly likely that my greatest success is behind me. So Jesus, what a thought! That's the kind of thought that could lead a person to start drinking gin at nine o'clock in the morning, and I don't want to go there. (Laughter) I would prefer to keep doing this work that I love.”
 
Given the clear danger of fame, why would any of us want it? Gilbert gets it exactly right, I think. “I would prefer to keep doing this work that I love.” Writers need readers to make their work come to life. We dream of readers the way birds dream about worms. Having readers guarantees that we get to keep doing the work we love.
 
And so we dream of lots and lots of readers. And we sit and imagine what it would be like to have 5,000 adoring fans clutching our book in their hands. And even though we know that logically it would be sort of horrible, we dream on….
 

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