Last year, I watched a lecture series on YouTube by Brandon Sanderson, of Mistborn and Stormlight Archives fame. It was really brilliant, and I highly recommend it.
There were hundreds of little nuggets o’ wisdom in there. But I always come back to one thing he said.
A student asked if he’d ever faced any discouragement in his writing and how he got over it, and Brandon replied that the time he felt most discouraged was when he’d written twelve books, and hadn’t sold any of them.
The way he overcame this funk was asking himself this:
“If I hit age 90, and I die, and my family finds 100 unpublished manuscripts in my closet, am I a bigger success than if I give up now? Meaning – am I willing to take the risk, as a writer, that this may never be anything more than a hobby? Am I willing to accept that that could happen?”
His answer, of course, was yes. He continued writing, and at last was published.
But I always come back to these questions. Whenever my story doesn’t make sense, or my characters won’t do what they’re supposed to, or the whole thing just feels like too steep a mountain to climb – I ask myself these questions.
How will I feel, after having worked on this manuscript for years, only to have it never be sold? Will it feel like a failure? Should I just stop trying now? Have I tried and done the best that I could? Is it worth keeping up with the struggle of writing? Or should I pack it in and chalk it all up to experience? An enjoyable time, but nothing more.
Sometimes, the answer comes immediately – YES. It’s absolutely worth it.
Other times, it’s slower.
See, I love writing, wholeheartedly. Even though it pulls at me, in every which way, until I’m spread thin, and I can’t keep up anymore. Even though some day it’s like walking uphill, in the hot sun, with a bag full of rocks on my back. I still love it, and enjoy it, and believe my work is pretty good.
But when I think about the fact that maybe it won’t ever hit shelves, and that maybe nobody will ever read it, and that maybe it won’t become the phenomena I’m dreaming of – that’s a hard truth to swallow. And my answer to those questions starts changing.
Maybe I should just give up, stop trying, pack up this lifelong dream and just be proud that at least I made an attempt.
But then I think about what I’d do instead. Work a 9-to-5, come home every night, eat dinner, watch some TV, go to bed, then do it all again. Over and over. Week in, week out. For the remainder of my life.
And I’m not okay with that.
That kind of life sounds torturous. I know, because I’ve lived it.
When I worked as a kindergarten teacher, while I did enjoy aspects of the job, what I didn’t enjoy, what made me feel really down for most of the time, was the fact that I didn’t have any opportunity to write. The job was so mentally and physically taxing, I never had any energy to even try to write. And the problem was that my mind was teeming with ideas. There was just no time to attend to them.
So, the memory of that, coupled with the fact that writing is what I love to do, what I truly believe I’m meant to be doing, makes up my mind for me.
I am willing to take the risk, as a writer, that this may never be anything more than a hobby.
So, fellow writers, or any other form of creatives, I put it to you to ask yourself these same questions. If ever you feel discouraged, if ever you feel your work isn’t going anywhere, just think about what the opposite of creating is. Think about what you truly want from your art. If you’re okay with it just being a hobby, you carry on.
You carry on, and you enjoy it, and pour yourself into it, and maybe someday something magnificent will come from it.
But even if it doesn’t, even if the only thing that comes from it is that you had a good time working on it, that you are happy with the hours you spent, that it does wonders for your mental health, and your outlook on the world – well, who could ever count that as a failure?