I was thinking about a fellow writer yesterday as I was hiking in a canyon stream near my home. She had sent me a despairing message: her book had been out for three months, and though she had tried and tried to bring attention to it, to do her part in getting the word out, nothing seemed to be happening, and she was drained and near to collapse from the effort. I was thinking how, in the past, I have felt and bemoaned this: that being a writer so often puts one in the position of frustration rather than celebration. The book is never reviewed widely enough. The audience is never large enough. We are never doing enough. There is something we have not done. There is everything we have not done. Having written--which is already difficult enough--we are expected to do more. We finish a book--challenge enough--and then we put another mountain in front of us. The mountain is this: if we work hard enough (we think), if we claw hard enough toward the top, our book will find its audience. If the book doesn't find its audience, it's our all our fault--because we didn't claw hard enough, we didn't do everything we could have done. The mountain of the book becomes nothing compared to, in fact is lost in the shadow of, the mountain of publicizing it.
The problem with this--I came home from my hike and thought--is that after a certain point, we have no business living this way. Aspects of our books' success are completely out of our hands. They have to do with luck, and with mystery. Even with the best will in the world, even throwing our hearts toward the top of that second, shadowy slope, there is only so much we can do. And once we have done it, we have to do this: skip down, go back to the flow, to the beautiful bottoms, where real life is, and the real work, and the real beauty. There is nothing beautiful about hawking a book. We do it because we have to. And once we are done, we can't say we have failed if we have done our best to help our creation along. We have to say, "I'm going back to my own stream, the things I love, for I have done my part. Let me celebrate. I am a writer. I have written. I have published. I have put a finished book into the hands of other human beings. I have sung the name of my book from the mountain, to any who were willing to hear, and many who were not--and that, frankly, took guts. I have accomplished this. I have made something and sent it out into the world. It is out of my hands now. I celebrate the sending. And now I will go refresh myself. I have earned it."
I've been on that mountain; it can be exhausting. But I don't live there. Not for long. My job is to write things. So is yours. My friends, don't let the transient job of selling your work overshadow your gift for making it. I'm with Andy Warhol (whose paintings of Campbell Soup cans languished undiscovered in a gallery for years) on this: Did you make something? Did you put it out there? Good. Enough. Now go make something else.
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Peace, love, and statutory compliance ~