On the Particular Temptations of Writers: Pt 2
I shared some initial thoughts on this topic a few weeks ago in Part 1. Today I’d like to finish up these musings by sharing a few other temptations I (and likely many other authors) struggle with.
The temptation I’d like to talk about today comes into play when dealing with criticism or a lack of success. Since most authors are not wildly successful there is ample opportunity to struggle with this one. You’ve written thousands of words, spent hundreds of hours, you finally see your work in print and…crickets. You get no response. Or perhaps worse, the few good reviews are seemingly buried in an avalanche of negative ones. Even successful authors don’t always handle criticism well. Tolkien, it was said, had only two responses to criticism of his work. He would either throw out the whole thing and start from scratch or ignore it altogether!
A kingdom of one
One of the ways is to exalt oneself to the throne of the untouchables. What do the ignorant masses know after all? They don’t know all suffering and angst and tribulation that went into producing that novel. They can’t see the aftermath, your open wounds pouring ink on the pavement. All they care about is watching reality TV shows or lattes or fantasy football, right? Worthless, wretched, readers! Who needs them anyway?
I call this the “bow down and acknowledge my greatness” syndrome. Or as Han Solo might put it, having “delusions of grandeur”. Be careful or you’re inner voice will end up sounding like Harry Wormwood from the movie Matilda:
I’m smart, you’re dumb; I’m big, you’re little; I’m right, you’re wrong, and there’s nothing you can do about it.
I have certainly struggled with this temptation. I think people should like what I like in fiction. I love long flowery sentences where you have to look up every other word. The general public? Not so much. “Give me Dickens and Dostoevsky and Dumas,” I cry. “Give us Grisham, Gaiman, and Green,” they shout back. Grrr.
A kinder, gentler approach
What I ought to do instead is accept that maybe what I’ve written either A) Hasn’t fallen into the hands of those who might love it or B) Has room for improvement. Either way, the only solution is to keep on writing, not to throw the general public under the bus for failing to see my obvious and unequalled genius.
Yes, writing a novel is hard. Yes, it would be wonderful if more people understood and acknowledged the late nights, the early mornings, the missed social opportunities, the countless hours of toil and sacrifice. But the reality is that most people won’t. Part of being in author is having thick skin, of going on when the wind is blowing against you and the snow is piled six foot deep. An author once described writing short stories as letting rose petals fall to the bottom of the grand canyon and waiting to hear the echo. That’s an apt description of not just short stories, but of most writing.
In the face of indifference and opposition an author needs to soldier on, accept reality, and take a deep draught from the well of grace and mercy. Your day will come if you stay at it long enough and love what you do well enough.
So keep at it, and write for the joy of creating, for the privilege of shining a light on the good, the true, and the beautiful. That’s the only way you’ll avoid falling into the temptation of making an idol out of all your hard work and creativity.
P.S. Here’s a little bonus for you, a video to remind you why you write and maybe help keep your chin up on those days when things aren’t going quite according to your master plan.