Last weekend, I had the great fortune of attending KindlingWords, a children’s book writers’ retreat up in snowy Vermont. My brain is absolutely saturated with information and ideas. One of the most interesting take-aways from the weekend is how often these published writers — many of them hugely successful — still struggle with aspects of their craft and careers.
Over lunch, I asked one writer how his morning spent revising a new manuscript was going. “I realized, it’s awful,” he said. He’s already published nearly thirty novels.
There are two ways of looking at this.
In setting up the first, let me say that when you’re not yet published and you’re struggling with submissions and breaking into the business, you often think, “If I can just get published, then I’ll have made it.” Then you get published and you think, “If I can just get a starred review or win this award or sell thirty-thousand books, and I’ll have made it.” When that happens, you think, “If I can just get optioned for a movie or land on the New York Times best seller list, and I’ll have made it.” If that happens, you think, “If I can just…”
You see where this is going?
It’s easy to have that grass-is-greener mentality. Our theme this month is Groundhog Day, and this notion of how we get stuck in mental patterns jumped out at me as relevant. I’ve talked to lots of writers, at a wide variety of levels of success, who aren’t satisfied with their careers. I find myself trying to balance a longing for greater success that drives me to create better and better stories with wanting to have satisfaction wherever I am in my journey.
I loved those days when I was unpublished and was writing with such joy and abandon. I find the business of being published a bit of a creative distraction these days. But I work hard to remember the joy and bring that into my daily writing practice. If we find satisfaction right now — wherever that is in the journey of being a writer — then we can love what we do. If we constantly long for what we haven’t yet achieved, this business of being an author can be miserable.
There’s another way of looking at this, although related. To get published, you have to be persistent. Being persistent relies in part on being hungry. And being hungry can make you dissatisfied. For some, that’s a constant dissatisfaction.
When that writer up at Kindling Words said he realized his manuscript was “awful,” he then added with a smile, “But I’ll fix it.” After you’ve been through some of the ups and downs of writing and being published, you gain confidence that things do turn around. Hitting those bad patches where the story looks like a big scrambled mess or the reviews are brutal or the attention is lacking is all part of the journey. They’re inevitable for writers at all levels. That insight into how to polish up the story or that glowing review or the sudden spotlight is just around the corner. How we decide to interpret our success is up to us.
The journey goes on. The wheels on the bus go round and round. Sing it with me now…