“This Will Change Your Life.” Really?
If you’re an aspiring writer (or even an established one), you’ve seen websites and seminars and workshops that promise to “help you write a bestseller.”
I’ve read and attended some of these myself. And I’ve learned from them. They haven’t been a complete waste.
But let’s dig a little deeper and ask ourselves what’s going on in our minds when we buy into such a promise.
“Bestseller” in this lexicon equals “success.”
The promise between the lines is
“This will change your life”
Fill in the blanks for what you imagine that means. Money. Fame. A better class of friends/lovers/whatever.
Write a bestseller and [XYZ Good Stuff] will materialize in your life.
I was having dinner with a friend the other night, a long-established and extremely successful writer both critically and commercially. He was saying how he had noticed lately that he wasn’t getting the same rush out of a new contract or a deal or a collaboration as he once did.
We theorized that the element of “this will change your life” had gone out of the equation.
Okay, okay … if you and I were in a rock band and we had a hit that took us from playing intimate venues to stadiums and arenas … yeah, I agree, that might be credibly said to “change your life.”
Like getting called up to the major leagues.
Or getting appointed to the Supreme Court.
Those would change your life.
But you and I are not rock stars or ball players or politicians.
Whatever success or celebrity we may attain on Day 249, when the alarm goes off the next morning, we’re back right where we were on Day 248.
We’ll grab the same cup of coffee, stumble into the same office, plop down before the same keyboard, and face the same dragon.
No Big Five contract will make that fight any easier.
No position on the bestseller list will guarantee that our next book won’t be, as they say on Get Shorty, “shite.”
In other words, the core challenges (and satisfactions) of our life are not going to change, even when something life-changing happens to us.
The blank page remains.
Our demons stay the same.
The struggle never goes away. It never gets easier.
That’s our life, yours and mine.
We’ve chosen it and we stick by it.
There’s a great scene in the Sam Peckinpah movie, The Wild Bunch (screenplay by Peckinpah and Walon Green).
William Holden plays Pike Bishop; Ernest Borgnine is Dutch Engstrom. They’re the two senior members of the outlaw gang that includes Warren Oates and Ben Johnson and as Lyle and Tector Gorch, with Jaime Sanchez as Angel and a great Edmund O’Brien as Freddie.
It’s night, a campsite in an abandoned adobe, after a day in which a long-planned holdup has gone catastrophically awry and the Wild Bunch, with heavy losses, has barely escaped. Now they’re regrouping, trying to figure out where to go and what to do next.
Holden and Borgnine have tucked into their respective blankets and sleeping gear. They’re leaning back on their saddles, which they’re using as pillows.
I’d like to make one last score and back off.
Dutch absorbs this skeptically.
Back off to what?
The rueful expression on Pike’s face shows he grasps the fatuity of what he has just said. He and Dutch speculate about what heist they might try next. Steal an army payroll maybe. Rob a train.
They’ll be waiting for us.
I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Another exchange or two passes. At last Dutch rolls onto his side and pulls his blanket up around his shoulders, preparing for sleep.
I wouldn’t have it any other way either.
Love this post. Hate this post. Oh, so it NEVER gets easy…this is a lie I’ve told myself since, maybe junior high. “Once this is over/accomplished, then everything will be easy..”
I don’t even know what easy is supposed to mean, but in my mind it must be free of stress, constraints, obligations, worries, concerns. When I see what I’ve just written, it appears I would prefer a bedridden life in hospice. Crazy, but the thought still occurs. Once this is ______ then life will be easy. Pernicious.
Love Dutch’s perspective. Happiness and pleasure are not the same thing. Most of the time, I feel most satisfied, alive, and happy in the middle of something that requires great effort from me. Hell, even surfing and skiing take effort. So does making love.
So true, Brian!
I’ve decided problems aren’t the problem. It’s not having the kind of problems I like to solve. Is there enough bedlam to keep it interesting, and enoug11h boredom to rest up in between?
Thank you Steve, another great reminder of why writers write.
Do it for the work and not the applause.
Personally, I do it to afford enough cat litter for six cats and seven litter boxes.
Kelly and I co-founded an animal rescue. Our cat number is in two digits…and I clean litter boxes each morning and night. When I’m feeling grumpy, scared, irritated, bothered…I think, “Damn, how many cats…”
When I’m doing well, I am filled with gratitude that I can do this small chore of cleaning their toilets because they cannot do it themselves. What an insignificantly small chore for what they give us.
Litter boxes cleaning is a personal barometer for my own interior.
Harriet the Cat and I salute you, Brian. Before we chop wood and carry water for ourselves, we sometimes need to scoop litter and dish out food for our journey’s companions.
The alarm went off. I have my coffee. I’m checking e-mail in lieu of facing the dragon one more time. I got to see Ernest Borgnine’s fabulous mu, and I was reminded that it never gets easier – but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Thank you, Steven..
Thanks for this post – it’s a critical life lesson for everyone, not just writers and artists. There is no single point in life where you can say you’ve arrived and you have nothing more to accomplish or prove. As soon as one goal is reached, start working on another one. Thanks for the reminder!
There was an interview with Mike Tyson. The questions was something like this, “Would you rather have the problems you have now or the problems when you were broke? He said, I rather deal with the problems I have now rich any day then when I was broke. I agree. I may do the same thing everyday but I rather do it as a bestseller than a struggling artists.
The challenges never end, so true. There’s no magic button. But it’s not to say we don’t glean some wisdom along the way. Man can learn, can evolve and isn’t destined to repeat the same mistakes over and over again. Certainly, we should regroup in our moments of fleeting victory before jumping back into the fray. If we’ve learned anything, it’s that we can rise out of the muck. As writer Maya Angelou wrote, “Still I rise.”
Rising takes a shift in consciousness.
“No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” Albert Einstein
There is a higher consciousness, a higher power. We must learn how connect with it. Ironically, when all seems lost, it dawns on us that the “little me” is not a solution. It never was and it never will be.
With each journey we make as writers, we struggle, but we reach a new plateau where we can rest for a minute before continuing our upward climb.
Another reminder that it’s the journey that matters; not the destination.
Myself, I am a God believing Bible artist guy. I’ve got a heavy eternal life jones (addiction) going on. I’m 80 yrs old, for me its all just a beginning thing. We use writing and art to sharpen our swords. Were sowing seeds for something far greater.
Excuse me, but I see no difference in this sense between writing and any other disciplines.
Before Enlightenment Chop Wood, Carry Water
After Enlightenment Chop Wood, Carry Water
I was thinking the same thing
This is comforting.
I admit, Steve, I don’t definitively understand this post…but it’s very evocative…and for no apparent reason it makes me want to tell you about the extraordinary work I’m engaged in. It’s messy…all edges and poking at the boundaries…it’s art in the best and worst sense of being revelatory and misunderstood at the same time…and it’s real and authentic regardless of anyone else’s assessment.
I have a theory…that the “art” we hang on a wall or a screen is a receipt. It is evidence of what it cost us to bring our gift back to the village. It is proof of a life lived.
I have no clue where you wanted us to end up with in this post, but this is where I showed up.
Yes, this is very reassuring. I keep reminding myself that it’s the creative work, in my case art and writing, that counts – the process and being immersed in it, doign your absolute best, then bringing something to life that never existed before. If we can find a way of sharing it, so much the better. But thinking we must attain self prescribed goals to match up to others, and that we must be successful , can kill off the creative drive quicker that anything else can. Lovely to find this blog through loving the War of Art book and I share it with other artists whenever I get a chance.