Just when he was about to give up and go into the underwear business...

Writers Almanac reports today is the birthday of lyricist Lorenz Hart.
He's famous for writing the lyrics to songs like "Blue Moon" (1934), "My Funny Valentine" (1937), and "The Lady Is a Tramp" (1937). As a young man in his 20s, he was drifting around, writing verse in his spare time, when someone introduced him to Richard Rodgers, a teenage composer who wanted to be a lyricist. They worked on a series of amateur musical comedies together, but their future didn't seem promising. Rodgers was just about to give up on music and go into the underwear business when their show The Garrick Gaieties (1925) became a huge success.
Publishing and show biz are filled with apocryphal tale about the starving artist on the cusp of failure, despairing, darkest hour just before dawn, and all that jazz. One of my favorites is how Richard Bach was watching the repo man take his car when the mailman drove up with an acceptance letter for Jonathan Livingston Seagull. And then there are the tragic near misses, like John Kennedy Toole, who won a Pulitzer for A Confederacy of Dunces after he abandoned all hope and killed himself.

So at what point do we sensibly throw in the towel? Is there such a thing as too much belief in oneself? Or too much faith that serendipity will smile our way? I'm at a loss when an aspiring author who's doing everything right (and I know several) can't get a friggin' book contract no matter how hard they work at it. I'm experiencing a terrible dry spell myself right now, and it's agony. I'm writing. A lot. I'm working as hard and as smart as I know how, but the deals just aren't swinging my way.

It struck me this morning that the agony is an essential element of the writing life. Like Tom Hanks says about baseball in the movie A League of Their Own, "If it was easy, everybody would do it." And we've all seen what happens to a lot of writers for whom it does get easy. They stop caring. Stop listening to criticism. Start taking those lovely, delicious book contracts for granted.

I think loving the writing life means appreciating the highs and wallowing in the lows. Giving both their due.

In the imortal words of Lorenz Hart:
The sleepless nights,
The daily fights,
The quick toboggan when you reach the heights—
I miss the kisses and I miss the bites.
I wish I were in love again!
The broken dates,
The endless waits,
The lovely loving and the hateful hates,
The conversation with the flying plates—
I wish I were in love again!

Comments

Fabulous post, Joni, and oh, so true. There's a thin line between self-confidence and self-delusion. The trouble is, somebody drew the darned thing in invisible ink.

You're on the right track, though. I'd bet the farm on it.

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