There's always something you can learn about writing, and it's with that spirit that I recently picked up Big Magic from the library. Years ago, I remember reading a blog comment from someone who felt completely discouraged about their writing; how at their age, with their talent, they had hoped for greater success. For the longest time it remained a picture in my head, the uncomfortable reminder of a writer's greatest fear.
Then Elizabeth Gilbert wrote Big Magic and included an anecdote with just the right answer.
During the Q&A after the reading, a middle-aged man in the audience stood up and said something like this:
“Mr Ford, you and I have much in common. Just like you, I have been writing short stories and novels my whole life. You and I are about the same age, from the same background, and we write about the same themes. The only difference is that you have become a celebrated man of letters, and I – despite decades of effort – have never been published. This is heartbreaking to me. My spirit has been crushed by all the rejection an disappointment. I wonder if you have any advice for me. But please, sir, whatever you do, don’t just tell me to persevere, because that’s the only thing people ever tell me to do, and hearing that only makes me feel worse.”
Now I wasn’t there. And I don’t know Richard Ford personally. But according to my uncle, who is a good reporter, Ford replied, “Sir, I am sorry for your disappointment. Please believe me, I would never insult you by simply telling you to persevere. I can’t even imagine how discouraging that would be to hear, after all these years of rejection. In fact, I will tell you something else – something that may surprise you. I’m going to tell you to quit.”
The audience froze: What kind of encouragement was this?
Ford went on: “I say this to you only because writing is clearly bringing you no pleasure. It is only bringing you pain. Our time on earth is short and should be enjoyed. You should leave this dream behind and go find something else to do with your life. Travel, take up new hobbies, spend time with your family and friends, relax. But don’t write anymore, because it’s obviously killing you.”
There was a long silence.
Then Ford smiled and added, almost as an afterthought: “However, I will say this. If you happen to discover, after a few years away from writing, that you have found nothing that takes its place in your life – nothing that fascinates you, or moves you, or inspires you to the same degree that writing once did… well, then, sir, I’m afraid you will have no choice but to persevere.”
Isn't that lovely?