At the desk, 7:35 a.m.
Yesterday, I was chatting with an author over email. He felt like his serial fiction wasn't going anywhere. He wondered if he should restart it or if he should forget it all together. And then he asked, "But tell me, is it worth pursuing?"
Writing often takes on the weight of 'worth pursuing' because every author assumes that his or her first work will be a bestseller and they will be set for life.
No painter assumes their first painting will be a masterpiece fit for the Louvre. No sculptor assumes the the first piece of clay they touch will be sold at Sotheby's. No gardener assumes that the first cucumber seed they shove in the ground will net them award winning cucumbers. No scientist assumes the first time they run a gel they'll win a Nobel Prize. No computer programmer assumes their first program will net them a prize.
Most artists know that it takes hours, research says 10,000 hours, to simply get to the level of mastery. Only after mastery can you move on to true success or brilliance.
But most authors assume that the first set of words they string together will find an agent, a publisher, and land them on the bestsellers list.
The idea seems to stem from the sense that anyone can write a story. Since we all seem to have graduated from third grade, we all believe that we can write. Unlike painting or sculpting or gardening or being a musician, writing isn't perceived as an art form that's nurtured through thousands upon thousands of hours of work, real, hard work. I can't tell you how many times I've heard people say, "Well, if my (fill in the blank) career doesn't pan out, I can always write."
We diminish the considerable talents of people like Stephen King (who sold short stories for 12 years before selling Carrie), Janet Evanovich (who wrote and published romance novels for 9 years before meeting Stephanie Plum) , James Patterson (who spent 20+ years writing in advertising), J.K. Rowling (who worked on Harry Potter for five years before submitting the first manuscript), or any of the bestselling authors. These icons of modern writing in someway have it lucky or easy or aren't really as good as we think they are.
The sense is that anyone, and in turn everyone, can tell a story that resonates with millions of people. So when millions of people don't show up automatically to look at our work, we're disappointed and wonder if we should abandon our story to find the one that will make us a bestselling author.
This is ridiculous! The world needs stories - big stories, little stories, happy stories, dark stories, warm stories, funny stories, stupid stories. We need stories particularly now. And the fact that authors get caught up in this nonsense is simply a way of forcing the world to relive the stories that have already been told.
Is my work worth pursuing?
Here's my response: Yes.
To my mind, you have 3 sacred bonds or contracts:
- You have a sacred contract to the story which came to you in whatever way you could receive it,
- You have committed to telling the story in whatever way you can best do that, and
- You have readers who gave you their time.
The answer to 'is it worth pursuing?' has to do with what you do with your sacred bonds. In modern life, we see our politicians, bankers, trusted friends trade their sacred bonds for money and power.
What you do with your sacred bonds is between you and your maker - choose wisely.
Will the work make you rich? Probably not.
I don't write for money - there are a lot easier ways to get money than writing. I write for the agreement I made between me and my maker over the way I treat my sacred bonds, my sacred gifts.