Discouragement and Hope

I don’t want to do any writing today, and yet here I am writing on my blog.  Winter’s here and when it’s good weather, I want to work outside or walk or climb the nearby steep hills.  And when it’s raining, I want to stay indoors by the wood stove and either read or watch videos.

I don’t know if it’s the election and all its craziness and hypocrisy, or whether I’m just tired of writing.  I’ve been a writer for more than half of my adult life and I’m tired.

I’m tired of friends and family praising other people’s writing, when my work is just as good and often better than others.  I’m tired of trying to promote myself to readers and publishers and making little headway.  I’m tired of people saying, “I’m afraid your work might be crap, so I don’t want to read it,” even as they consume stories and novels that are mostly crap.

People seem to think that you can pop out a novel like a chicken pops out an egg.  Just because readers can consume a novel in a day or maybe a few days or weeks, they feel writers should be able to do the same thing in the same amount of time.  That’s like going to a great restaurant and having a great meal and then trying to cook the same meal even though you have no experience at it, but you have the ingredients and the equipment and an oven and the recipe off the internet.  It takes experience, commitment, and handwork to create a good product, let alone a great one.  And it takes patience and talent.

Remember that great line from Disney’s “Ratatouille?”  “Anyone can cook.” Well, everyone has talent.  Everyone can be creative.  But not everyone’s a story teller, or a writer, or an actor.  And while some are gifted salespeople, not everyone is.  That doesn’t cheapen anyone’s dream, it just means you have to be honest with yourself.  Some dreams are not meant to be.  Finding your place doesn’t mean taking stealing someone else’s place.

So, what can someone like me do?  Keep working, keep learning, keep trying.  The more you learn your craft, the more you learn from others, the more you try, the better your odds are at success.

And, let’s face it, success can be fleeting.  Look at writer Herman Melville.  He wrote great adventures about the sea.  His closest friend, writer Nathaniel Hawthorne, who wrote “The Scarlett Letter” and who lived within a mile of Melville, wished he could write as well as Melville could.  And Melville was a success and making a living from his writing until he wrote “Moby Dick.”  That novel killed his career, and not because it was unbelievable but because it was racially inclusive.

“Moby Dick” is about a whaling ship, its crew, and its mad and obsessed captain.   The crew of the ship includes characters from every racial category.  It was published in New England in the 1850s.  Of its first printing, less than two percent was sold.  The printer cancelled it.  No one read or wanted his stories any more.  He ended up working as a clerk, barely surviving.

We look at the United States and think how racially insensitive it is, and we also sometimes glorify the racially sensitivity of the people of New England back then and yet Melville’s readers hated that book and hated him for including blacks, Asians, Maoris and Polynesians, Native Americans, Arabs and Jews in the crew of the whaling ship, as well as whites.  There was more racial intolerance back then there is now, maybe a thousand times more.

So, you can never know what the public is going to love, ignore, or hate.  You just have to keep trying.  Keep working as long and as hard as you can, and keep hoping that you’ll succeed.

You can measure success in small ways, like how many readers love your work, or how many followers you have on your blog, how books you’ve sold.  But that can also be greatly depressing.  It’s like driving cross-country and measuring your progress in feet or even inches.

And as far as talent is concerned, when I was in my 20s, I wanted to be a professional photographer.  But guess what, I had limited talent and zero business skill.  I quickly failed at it.  It took me years to finally realize that what I wanted to be was a story teller and that even as a photographer. I had wanted to tell stories, though I wasn’t very good at it in that medium.

In the film “Galaxy Quest”, Tim Allen’s character says “Never give up, never say die!”  That’s a perfect motto for any writer or artist.  Never stop hoping.

The people who know more about hope than anyone else are not doctors or priests, not teachers, not artists, not mountain climbers, not refugees and not the poor, nor the homeless, but farmers.  The weather can destroy their crops, disease and bugs can destroy their crops, governments can destroy their crops, people can destroy their crops, but they always hope that tomorrow or next week or next year will be better.  They have no choice.  Without hope, they would give up and walk away and the world would starve.

I can’t give up.  Maybe my next story will bring me more success.

See you out there.


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