We’re all very lucky

One of the strange dichotomies of my life is that I teach (and take) creative writing classes and I also tutor in adult literacy. So on the one hand, students obsessing over crimson vs scarlet, and on the other, slowly sounding out the word ‘red’. All about words, but very different priorities.

Now, writers being writers, complaining entertainingly about writing is clearly part of everyone’s creative process, because we do a lot of it. (Well I do a lot of it.) But it’s because we forget that we are lucky, lucky people. This is an art form that require a fair bit of education–not necessarily formal education, but I have yet to find a writer that is not well-read, and that typically means that we were probably raised in homes where we were taught to read and had access to books.

I have, at times, been envious of people who were raised in a family of artists vs coming from a long line of accountants (except at tax-time) but the truth is, accountants or not, I started reading when I was four and going to the mall to buy another book was never an issue in my family. I am lucky.

We all have reasons why we might not see ourselves as lucky as writers. Pushed by the forces of financial practicality from the accountant genes in my DNA, I got a degree in Computer Science instead of pursuing art and writing. Sometimes, because we all have our self-obsessed moments, I regret that because I think it slowed down my development as an artist, because maybe if I’d known then and had the courage then, I’d be a more established writer now. Then I have to remember, so what? I’m here now, doing my writing thing, for no other reason than because I can.

Other writers might think, well, if only I’d had a more understanding spouse, if only I were wealthy enough to not have this job, if only my kids were older, if only I had more time, if only I’d started sooner, if only I knew the right people, if only I had more credentials, if only….

What it boils down to is, if only this were easier. If only I were more successful. And then the irony is, the number of writers who do well, win awards, have doors opened for them, meet the people, and then think: I didn’t deserve this.

So we want it to be easier, and then when it is easier we wished it was harder so we’d feel like we deserved it?

We’re lucky that putting words onto paper is as effortless as thinking of the next word. We’re lucky that reading is a joy and not a struggle. We’re lucky that whatever indirect path lead us to writing, we got here. We found the thing we love to do.

But I don’t know that anyone is ever going to quite feel like they deserved to be lucky. Who deserves luck? Sure, we work hard on our craft and we put a lot of emotion into it and have to find the courage to be vulnerable on the page and put it out there and hope that someone likes it… but I don’t know that success in writing is ever going to quite feel earned the way, say, a farmer tills the soil and earns his potatoes. This isn’t backbreaking labour.

It’s okay that none of this feels quite deserved because frankly, very little in our lucky lives is really deserved, but we live our life anyway. None of us are curing cancer here (another lucky thing to be able to do) and that’s fine, because not everyone in the whole world can cure cancer. Some of us farm. Some of us save lives. Some of us write.

We are lucky. And it’s okay to be lucky. There will always be someone out there with more luck than you. There will always be a lot more people with a lot less. There is no shame in enjoying the fact that you, writer, despite the weirdnesses and frustrations of the writing life, are still lucky to be a writer. Don’t take that for granted by dismissing yourself and disparaging your own work. Don’t spit on the luck that you have because you’re fortunate enough to have it.

Congratulations! You failed!

If there’s anything consistent about the creative life, it’s that you will get rejected. A lot. I’m sure you know that already, but probably, when you first started sending out work, a part of you assumed that wouldn’t apply to you.

The first time I sent out a story, I had this fantasy–we all had this fantasy–that the very next day an editor would send me an email saying “I love this story, and I’d like to publish it and pay you money for it.”  And then I would tell all my friends and family and they would all run out and buy copies and they would all read it and tell me that they loved it and would notice (accurately) where they’d been slyly included in the story and think it a wonderful compliment.  (I had a counter-fantasy where this lead to a big, destructive argument, because it’s a more dramatic ending.)  That would lead to more stories, and some novels and the editor and I would become best friends who talked about my work over chilled white wine in my fabulous back garden.

This is not what happened.  Nor what happened the second time or the third time or the, I don’t know, hundredth time? (And my back garden is literally a pile of mud and debris.)

You get used to rejection, most of the time anyway.  You remind yourself it’s part of the process.  You remind yourself that you’re early in all of this.  But then, one day, it just stings. You’re not always sure why this one particular rejection stings so much, but it does.  And you start thinking “Why am I doing this?”

At that point, all the stuff about love and joy and creativity seems like much bullshit. You wonder, what’s the point of trying if all you do is fail, fail and then fail again.

The thing is, failure is success.

I know this sounds like DoubleSpeak (War is Peace. Failure is Success.) but what failure is, is proof that you tried.  You put yourself out there.  You gave it a shot.

Cold comfort, I know, until you think about how many people are not brave enough to try at all. How many people have a book in their head that they’ve never tried to write.  How many people have stories on their computer that they’ve never shown anyone.  How many people have paged through an old Writer’s Digest to look up places to send work and never sent out anything.

There comes a point in your writing career where sending stuff out starts to feel a bit routine. We forget what an act of vulnerability it is, to share our creative work with the world to be judged, or worse, ignored.  We forget, in the grind of getting stuff out there, that we are being brave.  That the first time we sent anything out we were scared, nervous, terrified and yet at the same time, enormously proud.  “I’m doing it,” we thought.  “I’m on my way.”

You’re still doing it.  You’re still on your way.  Don’t let rejection make you think otherwise.  Success lies in the process, not the results.