Every day I hear from writers who tell me how impossible it is to keep going, how they are broken by this ‘business’ and they see no reason to continue. Often this means they see no reason to continue living, since being a writer/creator/artist is so deeply embedded in the soul as the archetype by which we make meaning in our lives. Without it, the world crumbles.
I also understand that hearing these words from someone who has had a modest amount of success as a writer might ring hollow. Easy for me to say, right?
No, not easy. Hard won.
I didn’t publish until I was over forty. So there’s that. All the young people who think if they haven’t published yet, let alone won the Booker or the Pulitzer or the Giller indicates they will never have fulfilling lives as writers are just plain wrong. Wrong. Wrong.
How do I break this down?
First, almost no published writer wins prizes. This has nothing to do with the quality of your work. If that’s what you’re hoping for you are setting yourself up for unending disappointment, based on the entirely unpredictable, arbitrary, often political whims of a tiny group of people you might not even like, or respect. I know people who’ve won these prizes. They had some fun for a while and then, well, life went on. I’ve been on prize committees, and trust me, try as we might vote for the BEST BOOK EVER, it generally doesn’t turn out that way.
Lesson 1) …take care of your LIFE first, for it’s all you’ve got, and your life is not about winning prizes. It’s about where your feet are, at this moment. The writing life is a metaphor for being in co-creation with the Source-Of-All, if you know what I mean. So, right now, jot down five things you value about your life that have nothing to do with prizes… lovers, ice cream, dogs who sleep on the bed, growing tomatoes, making snow angels, creme brulee, the smell of roses after a rain… come on, you can do it.
Second, almost no one publishes, and for those who do, it is as much the luck of timing, relevance, and politics, as it is talent. By which I mean, a lot of really great books never see the light of a bookstore window. How many books (both good and bad) come out in any season? It’s insane. Especially with self-publishing (but that’s another blog). Why am I telling you this? Because it’s true, but also because publishing doesn’t necessarily mean success. Sure it’s nice and I’m glad I’m published, but the truth is that even though I have, for a moment or two, poked my head above the turbulent waves, ultimately I sank out of sight again, while Atwood and Winterson and Franzen and a thousand other writers rose to the tip of the swell. Maybe they’re better writers than I. Fair enough. Might be. So what?
Lesson…2) See lesson 1.
Third…maybe you and I will never publish, let alone win prizes. Maybe we’ll never publish again, let alone win prizes. Maybe we’ll be dumped by a publisher we thought had our backs. that happened to me. Should we keep writing? Should we? Maybe. But maybe not. Maybe it doesn’t please us any longer. Maybe it doesn’t bring us sanity or joy or satisfaction. If those things are true then, hell, I’m done. I’ll save feral cats and abused dogs. I’ll garden. I’ll work for environmental protection and for justice…you know, all the thousand things that make the world better. Not that we can’t do these things while writing, we can and many of us do, but if writing isn’t doing it for us, isn’t filling our souls, isn’t inviting us to surrender to the purpose our souls have for us, then for the love of what-ever-we-find-holy, let’s not do it!
If, when we sit down in front of the computer, or the page, we feel our hearts filling, our spirits settling; if we feel the top of our heads opening and something entering us and wanting to be born, without expectation; if we feel ourselves filled with the wonder of this story’s becoming, this image’s becoming, and if after we have written 500 words or 1,000 for the day we feel elated and elevated and full of satisfaction and peace… then come on, let’s DO that.
Lesson 3… see Lesson 1 and 2 above.
What do you think? Shall we keep creating? Keep writing? Or is there another way you’d like to walk through the world? Tell me.