I wasn’t planning to blog today, but then I saw this article on Facebook. Since nearly 100,000 others were talking about it, according to fb, chances are good that you saw it too.
If you don’t want to read it right now (though I’d recommend doing so at some point) the premise is this: Life is full of struggle and pain. It can’t be avoided. Yet many of us say we want to be happy in our jobs, relationships, houses, etc. The problem is achieving the kinds of jobs, relationships, etc. we want requires struggle and pain, because that’s life. From the article:
Because happiness requires struggle. The positive is the side effect of handling the negative. You can only avoid negative experiences for so long before they come roaring back to life.
At the core of all human behavior, our needs are more or less similar. Positive experience is easy to handle. It’s negative experience that we all, by definition, struggle with. Therefore, what we get out of life is not determined by the good feelings we desire but by what bad feelings we’re willing and able to sustain to get us to those good feelings.
The question is this: Do you want what you want badly enough to struggle for it?
The author discusses struggles related to going to the gym and pursuing a singing career. I want to discuss the topic from the angle of an aspiring writer.
I italicized aspiring because I think it’s become an overused and possibly meaningless word. I aspire to clean the kitchen, but unless I go in there and do it, nothing has changed. I sound good because I’ve expressed my hope to clean the kitchen, but really I’m still sitting on the couch, writing this post, and letting the kitchen stay gross.
So why do I use the word at all? It’s still common language among developing writers (a more appropriate word, IMO), and it identifies the target audience of the article and this post. Which is everyone, because we’re all developing.
I’ve talked about this next point before, I’m sure, but it’s powerful and extremely relevant here. I haven’t been able to find the original source (this is my memory of it, so it’s not even intact). If you happen to know/find it, please let me know in the comments.
Many people hope to write a book. Most won’t.
Of those who do, many hope they’ll let others read it. Most won’t.
Of those who do, many hope they’ll accept feedback. Most won’t.
Of those who do, many hope they’ll revise to make the book better. Most won’t.
Of those who do, many hope they’ll become published. Most won’t.
Of those who do, many hope their book will become a best seller. Most won’t.
Get the idea? Yes, it feels like a million people are writing a book, and maybe that’s true, but how many will make it as writers?
And of those who don’t, at what point did they stop? The author of the article says if you give up on a dream, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a quitter. It just means you didn’t want it badly enough to endure all the struggle it required.
Writing, publishing, and marketing a book is hard. Haaaaaaaaard. It doesn’t matter if you’re traditional or self-published. I work both sides of the fence and they’re both hard in their own ways (though marketing especially counts for both). These are the questions aspiring writers need to ask themselves:
Are you willing to spend hours, days, weeks, or months writing something you’ll end up throwing away?
Are you willing to fall in love with what you’ve created, only to have a critique partner or beta reader point out its many problems?
Are you willing to make changes to fix the problems they point out?
Are you willing to keep learning to improve your practice?
Are you willing to cut that part your editor wants you to cut but you love?
Are you willing to accept the fact that not everyone will love your work?
Are you willing to endure bad reviews?
Are you willing to spend hours talking about yourself and your book on blogs, social media, and in person to help it sell?
Are you willing to keep doing that even when it’s not selling?
This list is just a start. I’m sure my fellow writers can add to these questions.
We all have difficult moments when we want to quit. I call them “quit days,” and they usually occur during or immediately after some unfortunate writing thing happened. Maybe my editor wanted more changes or I’m feeling beat up by a CP. Maybe my book got a bad review. The point is they are quit days, not “quit forevers.” I want to be a successful writer badly enough to endure those hard moments and keep going.
But what if your quit day turns into a quit forever? Does that mean you gave up on a dream?
I obviously can’t speak to your dreams, but if you find yourself in a place where you just can’t do it anymore and that doesn’t go away, if the thought of writing another paragraph or speaking with a critique partner is met with an unending sense of dread, maybe it’s time to re-evaluate. As the author of the article says:
…maybe what you actually want is a fantasy, an idealization, an image and a false promise. Maybe what you want isn’t what you want, you just enjoy wanting. Maybe you don’t actually want it at all.
Wanting something is fun, isn’t it? Seeing your name on a cover, making the NYT or USA Today best-seller list, seeing your work made into a movie, whatever. If what you want is something difficult, after years of working towards it, there’s no better feeling than finally getting it. And if you got that far, it’s fair to say it was something you really wanted. Which takes us to our final question:
Are you willing to endure the struggle it takes to get there?