I’ve decided that I have a new quest as a writer. And I think it could help any other writers who dare to join me in this quest.
Like any good quest, it has a mission statement: Say no to woe.
(Pretty cool, huh? It even rhymes! Hey, I’m a writer, so the whole making-magic-with-words thing – well, it’s just what I do. But I digress…)
To what woe do I refer? The ever-popular “woe is me” mantra, which so many writers seem all too eager to adopt and trumpet. After all, it’s hard being a writer. Nobody appreciates us. It’s difficult to find time and energy to write and still deal with real-world concerns like making a living and supporting a family. And the odds are stacked against us. People like Snooki get book deals and we don’t. The same two dozen authors occupy 90% of the shelf space at any Target or WalMart. Meanwhile the rest of us toil away, unappreciated and unknown. It’s all so unfair!
A notable example of the SPP (Self-Pity Party) movement was this author’s recent article in Salon, in which he bemoans how hard it is to make it as an author, particularly in the strange new world of self-publishing. (The alert reader will note that this guy has already published three well-reviewed books on major imprints, and is now dipping his toe into the waters of self-publishing, seemingly without having done any significant research on the nature of those waters. Oh, and he also gets to write articles for Salon, so clearly this is a guy who just NEVER can catch a break as a writer.)
I’m sorry – was my sarcasm not coming through clearly enough? Then let me voice my reaction a bit more bluntly: Boo-freaking-hoo. You poor thing, you.
Lest you think my quest is directed only at people who aren’t thankful enough for their current blessings, I can assure you, it is not. No, this is an EOQ (Equal Opportunity Quest), aimed at bursting the bubble of self-pity in which any and all writers may be attempting to envelop themselves. Why? First of all, because self-pity is an enormous waste of energy. But an even more compelling reason – for me, at least – came from something my mom said to me many years ago, which I’ve never forgotten.
A self-inflicted pain
Whatever your path to publication may be, there’s no two ways about it: writing is hard, getting published is hard, getting reviews is hard, marketing and promotion is hard, and on and on and on. I get it, and I agree: it’s hard. Really freaking hard.
But here’s the thing: you’re doing this voluntarily.
I remember whining to my mom many years ago about how hard my life was as a musician. I went on and on, listing in detail all the trials and tribulations I had to go through in pursuit of my art. All the hardships. All the unfairness. All the sacrifices. At some point in my monologue, Mom finally cut me off, with one simple sentence:
“Keith,” she said, “nobody ever asked you to do this.“
Ouch. The truth can definitely hurt. But that didn’t make it any less true.
I know, many of us feel as if we don’t really have a choice; that we are somehow “called” to do this whole writing thing. But the reality is, it’s a choice we make – and a path we take – to serve our own interests.
Case in point: being a musician (and now, also a writer) wasn’t somebody else’s calling – it was mine. In other words, I’m doing this for me. And frankly I think this reveals that there is a selfish component to being an artist, whether we like to admit it or not.
I’m doing this for me. And I suspect you’re doing this for you.[pullquote]There is a selfish component to being an artist, whether we like to admit it or not.[/pullquote]
I know, it’s not a popular sentiment to suggest that artists have a selfish side, but I really believe there’s a lot of truth to the notion. After all, we’re taking a thing we LOVE, and then hoping somebody will pay us to do it. Yes, we work hard at it. But we’re pursuing a dream, not punching a clock.
And I don’t know about you, but I’ve met so many people who never pursued their dreams. Even sadder, I’ve met a surprising amount of people who don’t seem to even have any dreams – a concept so foreign to an artist as to be nearly incomprehensible.
But that’s not us. We are artists. We have dreams, and we pursue them. Frankly, the very fact that we have these dreams – and the freedom to pursue them (even if that freedom is subject to many restrictions) – makes me feel pretty damn lucky.
Real support is more than just cheerleading
My mom was always incredibly supportive of me – I hope this anecdote doesn’t suggest otherwise. But Mom was also incredibly smart, and she realized that sometimes the most supportive thing you can do for somebody you care about is to give them a much-needed reality check.[pullquote]Sometimes the most supportive thing you can do for somebody you care about is to give them a much-needed reality check.[/pullquote]
Mom passed away several years ago, but that candid observation from such a wise (and incredibly tolerant) woman really changed my perspective. No, it didn’t make the challenges I face any easier, but it did make me far less inclined to dwell on or complain about them. So I’m hoping it might have a similar effect on you.
And even if it doesn’t, the hard truth is that complaining won’t help you write, sell, or market a book. Nor will it endear you to your potential customers.
Important caveat: Some people face enormous obstacles in pursuing their dreams, either by being given less than most other people, or by being given more challenges, such as mental or physical problems, a war-torn environment or other unusual state of peril or unrest. But that doesn’t just make writing hard for them; it makes life hard for them.
Those people have every right to complain. Yet the funny thing is, so many of them don’t. Instead, they face their obstacles, and do what they need to do. Whether we’re talking Anne Frank or Christy Brown (the cerebral palsy victim whose books and paintings were created using only his left foot), we’ve got some tremendous examples to learn from, both as writers, and simply as human beings.
Consider your options
So if you’re frustrated by being a writer, consider the alternatives. Would you rather NOT be a writer? That’s simple enough: stop writing. And frankly that’s an option that’s always worth considering.
But if you find that option impossible to accept, then I suggest you take a hint from the British, and simply do this:
How about you? Have you ever received a reality check or some “tough love” from someone close to you that really changed your perspective? If so, I’d love to hear about it. In the meantime, I hope you found this helpful. And as always, thanks for reading!
Photo courtesy of the Cronin family archives, from what was essentially our own edition of That ’70s Show. See? I really did have hair!
Keep Calm image created using the awesome KeepCalm-O-Matic.
PS – For the record, Mom was not a fan of foul language, so she probably wouldn’t approve of the title of today’s post, despite the obvious cultural reference. But hey, what happens at Writer Unboxed stays at Writer Unboxed, right? ;)