Writers are always looking for the next great writing tip, the secret to plot, the key to subtext, the way to write compelling dialogue. But perhaps what’s most important to every single work—and especially the long-term life of a writer—is something beyond the craft of writing: resilience.
We’re going to experience a heckuva lot of rejection, after all, whether it’s from agents, editors, readers—or, unfortunately, ourselves. What’s most important is not how you write, but if you show up to write—and that you write in the bravura fashion that gives a story meaning.
I’ve been thinking of this recently in light of Elizabeth Gilbert’s TED Talk, Success, failure and the drive to keep creating.
Gilbert, the author of the blockbuster Eat, Pray, Love, has the enviable problem of trying to write a book that will please anybody after such a wild success.
“I knew well in advance that all of those people who had adored Eat, Pray, Love were going to be incredibly disappointed in whatever I wrote next because it wasn’t going to be Eat, Pray, Love, and all of those people who had hated Eat, Pray, Love were going to be incredibly disappointed in whatever I wrote next because it would provide evidence that I still lived,” she says.
I’ll gladly take Gilbert’s problem of riches any time, of course, but I also sympathize. In the end, Gilbert is just another writer waking up in the morning trying to tell her story, and one’s demons don’t necessarily go away after success. They might even get magnified. We’re all susceptible to criticism and expectations. We all can project negative outcomes no matter what past successes we’ve had. Success is nothing more than a temporary, flimsy blanket or shield.
“I had to find some way to gin up the inspiration to write the next book regardless of its inevitable negative outcome,” Gilbert says.
But how does she do this?
She remembers her “home” as a writer, a metaphor I love. She remembers when she was beginning to write as an unpublished waitress who came home to rejections for six years. I was such a waiter myself, and even though I haven’t written Eat, Pray, Love or anything close to it, I remember those early days of writing, and what a strange and blessed sort of home they were, when I received no recognition, yet found the warmth and glow of being alive when my pen touched the page.
I know now that six years of rejection isn’t much for most writers, but then rejection is rejection. Sometimes a single rejection will kill a writer. Sometimes the anticipation of a single rejection will kill a writer. The only way to create in such circumstances is to feel a reckless and unquestioned urgency to create.
Gilbert says, “Writing was my home, because I loved writing more than I hated failing at writing, which is to say that I loved writing more than I loved my own ego, which is ultimately to say that I loved writing more than I loved myself. And that’s how I pushed through it.”
Who knows how to explain why or how such a creative act can take on such importance, but when it does, it’s a transcendent moment. Like Gilbert, I believe I can tolerate setbacks and even tragedies that go beyond writing simply because I have that home of creativity. When I write in the morning before work, the day beams with a nurturing vibrancy. I can lose my house, my car, my job, all of my money, but I can’t lose writing. It’s so much more important than any of those things. It’s my soul.
As Gilbert says, “I will always be safe from the random hurricanes of outcome as long as I never forget where I rightfully live.”
We all need to ask ourselves each day, “What is my home?” It doesn’t have to be writing—it can be parenting or teaching or baking muffins or selling flowers—but whatever it is, it’s sacred. What is your home?
Watch Gilbert’s video: