I was reading Twitter last night when an unusual tweet showed up on my stream. It was a cry of despair, it appeared, and reading it, I had the sensation of a being passenger standing at the rail of on an ocean liner, looking out over the sea and seeing someone in the water, waving frantically to be seen before it was too late. The tweet was:
“See you later everyone. I’m giving up writing officially. It’s going nowhere. As a hobby it’s a waste of my time if I can’t survive off of it. I’ll be around for another fifteen minutes before I delete my Twitter … “
Man overboard! I thought. I tweeted back, “I hope you’re kidding … ”
“Nope. It’s a complete waste of my time. No one besides my mom, my brother and two other people (hyperbole) have read my book or cares … “
Oh my gosh. Yeah, I know. It’s tough, the rejection, the indifference, the feeling that what you’re doing *ought* to be getting more attention than it is.
I know. My ego, too, has at times been pulverized, my self-image, regularly diminished. And yet.
I replied: “I understand.” I wrote:
“Just tonight, I was wondering: what if I just publish a couple short stories, and nothing else, what then? And I thought: well, what else was I going to do with my time? Knit socks? Ride horses? “
I mean, writing is easy and cheap compared to riding horses. And I prefer, on average, writers as good-time companions to riders.
I tell myself I have to adjust my perspective. Writing is a lifelong journey. I think most of us intellectually accept that there are no guarantees, in writing as in elsewhere in life, but we have to accept this emotionally as well. I have a vision of the work I want to complete, but I don’t get a guarantee that my vision will be fulfilled. I wonder every day if by wanting to be a novelist and see my book read by thousands, I am not suffering from grandiosity of a clinical nature.
I said to my daughter, “I want everyone to fall in love with Carl (my WIP’s hero).”
She didn’t say “You’re out of your mind,” but I think her eyebrows did rise a bit. Meanwhile, I vacillate between confidence and self-doubt. A year ago I told my husband, Leo, that I was in despair because I wasn’t sure I could ever be the Writer I Dreamed of Being.
Leo, who has again and again in my life given me good answers to seemingly intractable questions, said “Look, you write, you always write, whether you journal or you direct your energy towards publication. So why not work to realize your vision? You’ll be writing anyway. Try to make something of it.”
He then went on to tell me the story of Nietzsche, the great German philosopher and classicist, who was rejected by the professors of his day because his ideas were, let us say, a little too progressive. He came up with, among other things, the idea of the Ubermensch and the Death of God, which while controversial have become worldwide philosophical koans after his death. But Nietzsche didn’t live to see his work become canonical. He never made any money out of it. When he died, his books were published in vanity press editions only. No paying editor would touch them. There was just one professor in the entire world who was teaching Nietzsche’s philosophy. That one man told him he was a genius but the rest of his colleagues said he was an idiot, or worse, irrelevant.
This discussion with Leo made such a mark on me that I can remember it a year later, and since then I have never stopped trying to be the writer I dream of. I have also come to believe, as I look at the world, that as education expands, and the world expands, there are more readers than ever before, and therefore, there is room for more writers than ever before. So I think that as I do not allow myself to quit, my twitter friend should not quit, and neither should the readers of this modest blog, almost all of whom, I think, are writers as well.
I concluded my communication with a tweet that for me is the end of the discussion:
“At the end of the day I think the majority of the joy is in the writing itself not being published.” I should qualify that by pointing out that I’ve had work published — short form only, not books — hundreds of times. So I’m not guessing.
Now that does not mean that I don’t do everything I can to write work that will satisfy my greater vision. It does mean that I understand that as Mr. Spock said, “No man can summon the future,” and I can’t force a solution.
I noticed that this morning my fellow writer who had neared despair was back at work and wrote that he had composed another 1000 words. I commend all writers on their many journeys. May you all be read, and far more and far longer than you expect in your darkest moments.
Nietzsche certainly was.