I’ve never met a career as soul-crushing and disheartening as writing.
I’ve also never met a career that can be as exciting and fulfilling.
So what’s the truth of it? Honestly, my truth will vary from yours and yours will vary from the next person, and so on. I can only speak with authority to what it means for me. As a writer, a human being, someone struggling to get her words out there, I will tell you that there are days when I want to just stop. That’s disheartening. That’s so tough.
Writers need thick skins. We hear that all the time, and it’s a universal truth. People either will or will not like our stories. Agents either will or will not be willing to try to sell them. Editors either will or will not accept them for publication. Small presses either will or will not be accepting that type of story. Critique partners, beta readers, reviewers, random people on the street–you get the picture. As a writer, there is no shortage of people willing to voice an opinion on the quality and marketability of our work.
We have to learn to be incredibly selective about who we listen to, and why we listen to those people. I’m not saying I don’t look for feedback, because I do. I enter judged contests. I’ve got a plethora of critique partners and beta readers. I’m actively querying, which puts my work out for scrutiny by agents and publishers, all of whom have different criteria for what they like and for what they’re looking to represent.
We also hear this all the time: writing is subjective. If that’s not a universal truth, I’m not sure what is. One reader will love the chemistry between characters. Another will hate it, or say it leaves them cold. One reader finds our work full of that elusive thing called voice. Another says they’re not a fan of the author’s voice. There’s an opinion for everything. With the short pieces I’ve had published, the reviews I’ve received have been all over the place. Sometimes I go back and reread them if only to remind myself how subjective this business really is. There is no one work of literature out there that’s universally loved, no one book that finds itself universally despised. That’s simply the way it is.
So why do we keep writing? A lot of people will say they write because they can’t not write. Some people will say it’s simply a learned skill or a job, and they do it every day because it’s what’s expected of them. I’ve always said I write because I have stories to tell. Will everyone want to read them? No. Will someone want to? Yes.
That’s why I write through the tough times. Those times when I think my life would be better served if I just gave up on writing and did something “useful” instead. But I’ve noticed something, and I don’t think I’m alone in this: when I don’t write for stretches (I can’t say how long because it varies), I get cranky. Unhappy. Depressed. Distressed. All those things make me want to not write. But if I power through them after a reasonable amount of time and make myself sit down and write, inevitably I feel better. More complete. Creative in new ways. I have more energy, more drive, more enthusiasm for the other things life has to offer.
And yes, I can do something “useful” and be a writer. Thankfully, those aren’t mutually exclusive.