Tag s | Writing Life

The Curse of the Writer

I have more conversations with clients about their feelings of anxiety, apprehension or insecurity than almost any other topic. Nearly every writer I have ever worked with as an editor or an agent, at some point in their career or in the process, severely doubt themselves.

Doubts occur in the midst of creation. (“They are going to find out the truth…I have no talent.”)
Doubts occur when the “letter” arrives from the editor. (“They hate my book. I’m a failure!”)
Doubts occur when the disappointing royalty statement arrives. (“Why do I work so hard for so little?”)
Doubts occur … just because…

It is the curse of the writer. Writing is an introspective process done in a cave…alone. It is natural to have the demons of insecurity whisper their lies. And, in a cave, the whispers echo and build into a cacophony of irrepressible noise.

Once I had an author with dozens of titles in print and over three million books sold turn to me and say with a somber voice, “Do I have anything left to say? Does anyone care?” I didn’t quite know how to reply so tentatively said, “Well, I like it!” The author responded with a harrumph, “But you are paid to like it.” After we laughed, we agreed that this lack of confidence would pass and ultimately it was a normal thing to feel.

When all is written and done there is the extraordinary feeling of accomplishment when the book is finished and that ministry of words begins. However the doubts don’t go away because critics will write reviews. One or two stars show up on Goodreads or Amazon. Or, even worse, no one cares enough to write a review at all!

Writers complain, “But my book has only sold 3,000 copies!” Instead of focusing on the few, consider focusing on those who bought the book. Put all 3,000 people into one room. Imagine it. An auditorium filled with people, wall to wall. And every person in that room has paid money to read your book. And then you walk out onto the stage to give the glory and honor to our God. That can help put things in perspective.

I hope we don’t write for fame. I hope we don’t write for our own glory. We write because we must. There is something in you that must get out. So many authors will say, “I can’t not write!”

Maybe your magazine article arrives on a doorstep the very day that reader is struggling with a wayward teenager. You’ll probably never hear from that reader, but your words are a salve to the soul. Books aren’t the only way to get published.

Maybe your blog or podcast is forwarded by someone to a person in need. Someone you don’t know.

My advice? Know that the curse of doubt is normal. See it for what it is, simply part of the process. Embrace it but don’t let it debilitate!

 

[a version of this post originally ran in September 2010.]

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A Writing Life – Pearl S. Buck

Seventy –five years ago today, Pearl Buck became the first American woman to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.  The king of Sweden gave her the award at a ceremony on December 10, 1938 in the Stockholm Concert Hall.  It read:

“By awarding this year’s Prize to Pearl Buck for the notable works which pave the way to a human sympathy passing over widely separated racial boundaries and for studies of human ideals which are a great and living art of portraiture, the Swedish Academy feels that it acts in harmony and accord with the aim of Alfred Nobel’s dream for the future.”

Pearl’s most famous works, her “House of Earth” series, written in the 1930’s (The Good Earth, Sons, A House Divided) are considered important works, making a significant literary contribution around the world.  The Good Earth was the best selling novel in the U.S. in both 1931 and 1932 and also won her the Pulitzer Prize in 1932.  It still sells consistently today…Oprah Winfrey named it as one of her must-reads in 2004.

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News You Can Use – April 17, 2012

Getting by on a Writer’s Income – Lawrence Block reflects on the challenges of the writing life. An excellent article from someone with a half a century of experience.

Microsoft Word is Dead – Tom Scocca in “Slate” makes a bold claim. I would vehemently disagree from the point-of-view of writers and editors and publishers. But he may be right when it comes to office collaborations and the like.

Mary Poppins Author Regrets Selling Movie Rights to Disney – A story behind the story. What we may have seen as a delight the author saw as a violation. Our family happens to have enjoyed both the movie and the original books.

—– Articles about the Department of Justice Lawsuit —–

One Bad Apple Don’t Spoil…on Second Thought – Bufo Calvin weighs in on the DOJ lawsuit

Agency is Dead, Long Live the New Agency – No, the article is not talking about literary agents despite some of your wishes. Instead Philip Hughes looks carefully at the DOJ lawsuit and asks some great questions.

Amazon E-book Pricing a Thorn in the Flesh – Fascinating look at a publisher that has willfully removed all their books from Amazon’s web site despite the risk of lost sales.

The DOJ Lawsuit Won’t Solve the Big Problem – Emily Bell in the UK sees the issue a little differently.

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