He was a dreamer, a schemer, a luckless schmo who shot for the stars, only to land flat on his face. Millions of Americans dream of getting published. If you're one of them, take a cue from our old friend Ralph Kramden, and do what he didn't do.
The classic TV sitcom The Honeymooners looms large in our collective memory. All the more surprising, then, that it lasted just a single season: 39 episodes, broadcast from 1955 to 1956. After that, the series mostly vanished from the airwaves, though star Jackie Gleason revived the concept from time to time, in sketches on his CBS variety show.
So, after all these years, why do we still remember and love The Honeymooners? Mostly because of its larger-than-life hero, Ralph Kramden. Ralph was the ultimate working-class schmo: a New York bus driver who lived with his long-suffering wife, Alice, in the city's Bensonhurst neighborhood. Their home was a squalid two-room walkup, one floor up from best friends Ed and Trixie Norton—the former a “subterranean sanitation engineer” (aka sewer worker), the latter, like Alice, a homemaker.
Ralph was the classic Everyman, downtrodden but ever-hopeful: the embodiment of the unfulfilled dreamer. Every day, fate and circumstance kicked him in the rear, but he always lived to fight again. Ralph’s innocence was touching, as was his belief that tomorrow could be better. As any fan of the show can tell you, his get-rich-quick schemes were legendary. With sidekick Norton (played with inspired buffoonery by Art Carney), Ralph was always coming up with harebrained ideas to make a fortune: winning a quiz show jackpot or talent show, writing a Top 10 song, or making a fortune peddling no-cal pizza. He always believed a pot of gold was right around the corner, and the next crazy plan would be the one to pay off. And though his dreams always fell short, in the game of life, Ralph kept on swinging. I’ve done my share of dreaming and scheming, mostly related to writing. As a young woman, I imagined myself a great romance novelist like Nora Roberts or Danielle Steel (well, the latter is prolific and successful, if not great). Later in life, I wanted to be an acerbic social commentator like Jonathan Franzen, who wrote the bestselling novel The Corrections, and ruffled feathers when he declined to join Oprah's Book Club. And what aspiring writer hasn't imagined being J.K. Rowling, whose literary dreams were really quite humble, but who went on to be a cultural phenomenon and build one of the greatest literary and cinematic franchises in history?
Have you ever entertained such fantasies? I have a name for them: “Kramdenitis.” It's a kind of woolgathering that's undeniably pleasant but frankly, outside the realm of possibility. Sort of like winning the Powerball or marrying a prince.
So what does all this have to do with you and your writing? In today's world, the desire to be published, to see a book with your name on it in libraries and bookstores, is no longer Kramdenitis—a far-flung dream. Self-publishing, ebooks and hybrid publishing (as well as the traditional publishing route) have put authorship in the hands of just about anyone who wants it. If you want to write a book, you can do it—provided you have a plan, a deadline, and the commitment to "get to 30" (see related blog post here). See, the problem with our friend Ralph Kramden is that he lived for the lightbulb moment. He had the idea and the inspiration, but he didn't follow through. Are you ready to finally dig that half-finished novel out of the desk drawer and get it to market? If so, it's time to bone up on which publishing practices to follow, and which ones to avoid. Learn a little bit about the perils of the vanity press (great article from Reedsy here: Book Publishers to Avoid (and Other Shady Author Scams)). And here's another helpful blog from Publishing Talk about how to interest a major house (How to get published - 6 steps to a traditional publishing deal.)