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 understand.

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?

I dance. The Bear watches. Maybe that’s not the widest audience, by he is the Bear of my Soul.

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!

However.

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.

 

28 Comments

  1. Cynthia on December 4, 2019 at 10:24 pm

    Fuck yeah, keep writing.

    • Lauren B. Davis on December 5, 2019 at 8:58 am

      Succinctly put, Cynthia! I should have just said that! 😉

    • DAVID MENEAR on December 5, 2019 at 6:17 pm

      Fuck yes, I’m with Cynthia.

      • Lauren B. Davis on December 5, 2019 at 6:29 pm

        Hahaha! David, you made me laugh!

  2. D-L Nelson on December 5, 2019 at 8:18 am

    Excellent

    • Lauren B. Davis on December 5, 2019 at 8:57 am

      Thanks, D-L!

  3. Dawn Miller on December 5, 2019 at 9:55 am

    Wonderful post, wise words!
    (and btw, you’re one of my favourite authors!)

    • Lauren B. Davis on December 5, 2019 at 9:57 am

      That’s very kind, Dawn. Thank you.

  4. Lisa de Nikolits on December 5, 2019 at 10:39 am

    I love this so much! Thank you for this post!

    • Lauren B. Davis on December 5, 2019 at 10:48 am

      Thank YOU, Lisa.

  5. Janie on December 5, 2019 at 10:59 am

    Lauren, I will always remember the kindness and wisdom you shared with me on that long ride so many years ago. And have set my expectations of this industry accordingly.

    • Lauren B. Davis on December 5, 2019 at 11:08 am

      Oh, we had fun that day!! Dame Margaret! Remember. She was a gas. And it was a joy meeting you.

  6. Kathy on December 5, 2019 at 1:20 pm

    All true. I found the dog and pony show following the publication of my first novel was too much for my introverted nature and I lost my desire to write. I now garden, look after my elderly dad and make chocolates for holidays and give them away. It wasn’t worth the energy to spend several years writing the book and hoping for a good reception, then to actively despise the hustle required to get it out there. Everyone seems sad that I’m not writing, but maybe later. Maybe not. 😁

    • Lauren B. Davis on December 5, 2019 at 2:16 pm

      Kathy — I hear you. I have other friends, excellent writers, who simply didn’t enjoy publishing and so they stopped. They could have gone on but chose, like you, not to, for the sake of their sanity and their ‘real’ lives. I applaud your decision. You truly have to listen to your soul. If you’re not comfortable, don’t do it!

  7. Linda Hutsell-Manning on December 5, 2019 at 1:40 pm

    I was first published at age 41 after 32 rejections. Now, at 79, I have published: 11 children’s books, a literary novel, a memoir and a handful of short stories and poems. All but the memoir, just published, we’re rejected a number of times with waits up to 1 1/2 years. Canadian writer, Mordecai Richler said,”No one put a gun to your head and said you had to be a writer!” Being a writer today requires determination and stamina. Don’t give up.

    • Lauren B. Davis on December 5, 2019 at 2:21 pm

      Linda, That’s great. Congratulations. I didn’t publish until the same age. I must say, though, that besides determination and stamina, one also needs a sense of rightness, of fulfillment, and even joy. I can’t imagine gritting my teeth and battling every day. That sounds very grim indeed and would destroy my art. I go on not because I expect publication, but because it’s how I answer to my vocation. It’s how I engage in co-creation with the world. The business of publishing is a very different beast indeed.

  8. Judith Copithorne on December 5, 2019 at 2:49 pm

    Until recently any one who had any time, that is the upper classes (there were no middle classes and the poor almost never had time but the upper classes) almost all wrote journals. That is how they kept track of things and out of that came poetry and more recently stories. So if we are asking should we keep writing we are missing the point that for centuries almost any one who could wrote. And so why would we stop now? Now whether we publish or not is an entirely different question and likely should not be confused as to whether we should keep writing or so it seems to me.

    • Lauren B. Davis on December 5, 2019 at 2:56 pm

      I couldn’t agree more, Judith. That’s why I say, “Maybe you and I will never publish, let alone win prizes….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.”

      • Judith Copithorne on December 5, 2019 at 6:30 pm

        Yes, and maybe we will just feel that things have settled a little and that also is important. Or if we have written 6 words which later maybe seen as a poem or if we have done a drawing or just noted 3 things about the weather, It all counts to me at any rate.

        • Lauren B. Davis on December 5, 2019 at 6:34 pm

          Absolutely, Judith.
          There’s a wonderful story about James Joyce:
          A friend came by to see him in his cold, grotty attic where he was writing.
          “How’s it going, Jimmy?”
          Joyce looked up and said, “Oh, not bad. I wrote eight words today.”
          His friend replied, “Listen, for you, that’s bloody brilliant!”
          “Sure,” said The Great Man, “But now I have to figure out what order I should put them in.”
          Snort.

  9. BuriedInPrint on December 5, 2019 at 5:25 pm

    Such useful and pertinent advice! Keep on keeping on!

    • Lauren B. Davis on December 5, 2019 at 5:43 pm

      Thanks, BuriedInPrint! You, too!

  10. Sandra Davies on December 5, 2019 at 5:58 pm

    You jut saved a lost part of my sanity. Well said. Thanks you.

    • Lauren B. Davis on December 5, 2019 at 6:02 pm

      I’m SO glad to hear that, Sandra.

  11. isabel huggan on December 6, 2019 at 12:58 am

    dearest Lauren, i so seldom look at blogs now or even at Facebook — though when I wake up at an odd hour and can’t sleep I do a FB skim as diversion instead of fretting abou not sleeping… as I did just now and happily stopped to read this compelling piece by you… beautifully put, and hugely helpful to writers of any ilk… We’ve not been in touch for a whle… I will aim to write you a long email letter SOON or else we’ll set a date for phonecall — I spent a lot of time over in Canada this year but am back in France now until end of Feb 2020 I’ll be over on your side again… xoxo

    • Lauren B. Davis on December 6, 2019 at 10:51 am

      Wonderful to hear from you, Isabel. I look forward to that letter/phone call!

  12. Robert Runte on December 20, 2019 at 8:58 pm

    Good one!

    I get the same worries from my editing clients. The ones that approach writing as a get rich quick scheme I try to introduce to a little reality checking, but they’re mostly deep into Dunning-Kruger effect, so, whatever.

    The ones who write well but feel like failures –or are told they’re not professional writers because they can’t make a living at it–I explain that Chaucer and Shaw and Conan Doyle and Kurt Vonnegut and William Burroughs and etc all had day jobs, so making a living at it isn’t the relevant criteria. Circumstances prevent most people from writing full time, so expecting to be a full-time writer is kind of entitled. Poets don’t expect to make a living as poets, so why should novelists? Even the few writers (out of the hundreds I know) who do make a living out of writing either live more humbly than I am prepared to (like the woman who told me she was glad to have received a royalty check that quarter because now she could afford to buy a box of tea) or they supplement their writing income with public speaking and so on.

    I therefore celebrate the hobby writer. One of my favorite authors, and a writer who had a profound influence on his generation, was H. A. Hargreaves, who only wrote one short story every couple of years. Yet his collected works defined Canadian SF for at least three decades. You don’t have to be a million-seller to matter. He did win one award (lifetime achievement) just before he passed away, but that clearly wasn’t what mattered to him.

    So do your thing, and forget about external validation. Why worry about being part of the industry of writing? That’s mostly about marketing and luck and flavour of the month. Writing is about getting words down on paper, and the self-satisfaction of doing that well. We should judge our books by popular opinon? Have you seen who they elected president? You want those people judging your writing? No thanks. I write because I like my writing. It’s great when I sell a story somewhere, but that’s not why I wrote it.

    • Lauren B. Davis on December 20, 2019 at 9:01 pm

      Yes, yes, and yes. Thank you for commenting. Your perspective is important.

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