Never doubt that thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed it is the only thing that ever has.—Margaret Mead
Monday you got the bad news. Now you get the good news. You’re very welcome!
- THE DILIGENT: those who sit down and write
Natalie Goldberg immortalized it without words, the simple gesture of holding up a pad of paper and writing.
Don’t write for publication. Don’t write for ambition. Don’t write because you keep reading the news about people even less literary than you making it in the best selling Big Time. Don’t base your dreams on greed.
Write for zest and exploration and color and detail. Write as research and daydreaming and argument and creativity and hypothesizing. Write for experimentation and hallucination and entertainment and friendship and education and sheer goodness of heart. Write for amusement and revenge and anguish and, ultimately, exhaustion.
Write because writing’s what you do—and what you’re going to be doing for the rest of your life—even when you have nothing to write about.
Guess what? You’re a writer.
- THE IMAGINATIVE: those who are always looking for ways to liven up the party
You know why so many writers have such great biographies? Because the best ones never know when to leave well enough alone. They pull up their socks and yank on their shit-kickers and go out there to face life with all their innocence and guilt and huevos shining in all directions. They pay their dues and take their chances. They shoot the rapids. They wrestle the angel. They throw themselves on the mercy of the lion.
And when they sit down to write, they approach it the same way, with recklessness and bravado and sheer, uncontrolled, brain-bursting inanity. That’s how they get themselves into the tops of trees and under the bowels of the earth, on the extreme end of adventures they can’t possibly get out of in one piece, hurtling lock, stock, and barrel into outer space. And that’s how they have the stamina and endurance to drag a whole galaxy of readers along with them.
- THE SENSITIVE: those who pay attention to their senses
You were born with five, or at least most of five. They are your passport to the world of words. No matter where you go, what you do, or what you think about it, those five senses are always operating, twenty-four hours a day, rushing an infinite number of perceptions to your brain, where they are promptly transformed into concrete, vivid, material details, complete with all the trimmings.
Even more than that, your brain itself sorts, classifies, and stores them all. THEM ALL. And for the rest of your life they’re there, being carted around inside that unbelievable micro-storehouse inside your brainpan and added to every instant of every second of every moment of your day. . .a constant, unending stream of fertile material.
All you have to do is write it down.
- THE INSENSITIVE: those who have a businessperson’s professional attitude toward rejection, vagaries of the industry, unforeseen disaster, yes, even self-parodying black humor
Almost every single time I write one of those black humor posts, I get a whole bunch of people laughing their heads off and one unhappy person saying sadly (or not-so-sadly) and without a trace of humor, “Why are you such a big meanie?”
I’m not. Truly. Read my client testimonials. I’m an old fuzzy kitty-cat, and the people who work with me on their own tender, delicate, yearning fiction are my biggest champions.
But I’ve been out here in the writing business for three decades and counting, and I know if you don’t develop a sense of humor about the weaknesses and failings you yourself bring to it, it will chew you up and spit you out long, long before you ever thought you could possibly be done. The publishing industry is not out there waiting for you to bring it your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. The publishing industry doesn’t care about you and your wretched refuse. (For the record, it doesn’t care about me or mine, either.)
The publishing industry is nobody’s mommy.
It’s a business, that’s all. And the only way you’re ever going to succeed as a writer is by learning to laugh at yourself, alongside others just like yourself, in the spirit of camaraderie and warts-&-blemishes and cockroaches scuttling around under rocks in the dark of all those who have gone before you. Because they are legion. And when you are dead and gone, legions more will still continue to arrive on these fictional shores.
Quit worrying about getting your feelings hurt and throw your arms open in joy now that you arrived here when you did. Even as we speak, you are recreating this place in your own image.
- THE PATIENT: those who take their time, realizing life is long and a career in the arts takes the whole of it and even the greats never lived long enough to learn it all
Somerset Maughm lamented it. Flannery O’Connor lamented it. You can lament it too: you will never live long enough. You can devote all the decades of your life to the craft you love and be ecstatic you did, but you will still die, like Albert Einstein, leaning out of bed with the last frail ounce of strength, grasping for a reproducable theorum of the divine.
And you will know, as you lean, that you gave it your all, every day of your life: your passion and curiosity and love and devotion to this craft that means so much to so many but, especially, to you. And you will die grateful you had the chance, thanking heaven you stumbled on it while there was all that time to luxuriate in it. . .even if you became a writer only days before you died.
It came to you—this extraordinary craft—as a free and unfettered gift, and you got to own it, for just a little while.
- THE BLESSED: those upon whom the gods smile
Because there is luck in all the business of humanity. “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players: they have their exits and their entrances; and one in time plays many parts.”
Get used to it. And get used to recognizing when you are blessed. It is a huge and amazing thing. It is well worth stopping and making an issue out of. You got smiled on! Break open the clouds, stand in shafts of sunlight, let the angels sing.
One of the gods smiled on you.
For the rest of it, well, get used to sharing that with all the rest of us, this ridiculously motley crew of hapless strugglers, drowners, fighters, dreamers out here. You think you’re alone in your natural lack of blessedness? Open your eyes and look around. You’re not alone.
Truly, people. A piece of paper, a pen, a handful words, and this life of yours: that’s it. Luck comes, and luck goes. Live long enough, and you won’t be able to escape it.
You are all you have.
And remember: you have 5 Things to Celebrate About Finishing Your First Draft.