I've had quite a few moments of self-pity. I've felt spent, used up, obsolete. I've felt like the literary world is a grand ball and I am a wallflower, thrilled to be invited to the party but worried that I'll never really fit in. I've spent far too much time fretting over how much time has passed since my last novel. I've looked at the titles on the bestseller lists and decided that the type of books I write are a real long shot for that kind of success.
Blah, blah, blah. Funny how the universe seems to know just when to give you a good kick in the pants.
One day, while I was sulking and cleaning the house (to make myself feel worthy and useful), I was listening to an episode of The New York Public Library's podcast. It was an interview with Cheryl Strayed, the author of WILD. While they were talking about publishing and the writing process, the interviewer relayed this story told by EAT, PRAY, LOVE author Elizabeth Gilbert:
[I found the transcript of the story here.]
I have a friend who’s an Italian filmmaker of great artistic sensibility. After years of struggling to get his films made, he sent an anguished letter to his hero, the brilliant (and perhaps half-insane) German filmmaker Werner Herzog.
My friend complained about how difficult it is these days to be an independent filmmaker, how hard it is to find government arts grants, how the audiences have all been ruined by Hollywood and how the world has lost its taste…etc, etc.
Herzog wrote back a personal letter to my friend that essentially ran along these lines: “Quit your complaining. It’s not the world’s fault that you wanted to be an artist. It’s not the world’s job to enjoy the films you make, and it’s certainly not the world’s obligation to pay for your dreams. Nobody wants to hear it. Steal a camera if you have to, but stop whining and get back to work.”
I repeat those words back to myself whenever I start to feel resentful, entitled, competitive or unappreciated with regard to my writing: “It’s not the world’s fault that you want to be an artist…now get back to work.”
Wow. This was exactly what I needed to hear. I copied Herzog's quote and hung it above my desk.
I've been repeating this mantra to myself every day. It helps me remember that this life, this career is of my own choosing and by extension so are the problems that accompany it. No one has asked me to write. The world will continue on just fine if I don't. But I won't be all right--I'll be miserable. So I must write for me and no one else. I will let go of expectations. I will stop whining and get back to work.
And you know what? Suddenly, I felt the pressure lift off my shoulders. Last night, I was minding my own business, when ideas for the novel surfaced. I grabbed a notebook and starting writing as fast as I could. The well, it seemed, had been replenished.