In her book, Fierce on the Page, Sara Cohen insists that authors be happy first no matter where they stand on the fame and fortune continuum. This belies our whole tortured artist myth, that validation, and accidentally, happiness can only be achieved with publication the sharp spires of which beckon as our own shinning city on the hill. This is about as true as black being flattering to all complexions.
You seem both shocked that contrary to fashion magazine claims, the little black dress isn’t universally perfect, and shocked that the end of the rainbow does not lead to a pot of gold, or happiness. I understand. When my first book published. I felt satisfaction, pleasure, had a celebratory drink and immediately had to get to work because promoting a published book is critical, required, and lead to increased crankiness. Not happiness.
If that is true, how can a writer possibly be happy?
The first strategy is to understand our mythology. Our favorite myth is that all writers want to be published. And all published authors are happy. More specifically, published authors are happier than YOU. This myth perpetuates the erroneous idea that all our work will be in vain if we don’t publish. And not just any publisher, our work must be published by one of the big 5, 4, 3 – the only traditional publisher left.
What if the writing itself makes you happy?
I am a life-long writer, can’t help it. The work may change, but the process stays very much the same because I love the process. My goal for writing is that the work will increase in satisfaction and flow the more I do it. I want the writing in my 80s to be even more satisfying than writing in my 50’s which is considerably more satisfying than writing in my 20s was. In my twenties, I wanted to have written. I wanted the finished project and the imagined all the acclaim and satisfaction that a published book would bring. In short, even though the actual process was miserable and difficult, I knew I would be happy once the damn thing was finished and published.
I ended up dropping the awful novel ( A romance. I am not a romance writer evidenced by the excruciating process) in favor of planning a trip to Europe. Better use of my time. I remember the trip, it made me happy. The only thing I remember about that novel was the rejection letter.
Concentrate on the process – the hours you will spend on creating your work. Are you happy in those hours? I’m betting you are. That’s the happiness. That should be the goal: doing what makes you happy, not waiting in vain for validation from strangers.
So what will make you really happy?
Do you long to announce your book project at family dinners to show you are creative, erudite and introspective?
Will holding the title – Writer – make you more important?
Will adding writer to your Linked In account give you a thrill?
Will wearing the writer’s costume give you deep satisfaction? (Note, the writer costume does not include a cape, rather it often consists of an old college sweatshirt and yoga pants covered in dog hair) (But being able to wear yoga pants all day confers on many of us, tremendous happiness).
Some writers are happy to have something to do while sipping their lattes at Starbucks, so an afternoon in a cafe noodling around on your laptop, feeling part of the tribe is time well spent.
If explaining the plot of your yet unwritten work delights you. Then do that.
If endlessly editing your epic poem from 5:00 to 6:30 PM every weekday soothes your soul. Do that.
If you can turn yourself into a writer who loves the process, and revels in the zone of writing, the doing of it, you will truly win this game.
Whatever you do, don’t believe that publication will lead you through to the beautiful sunset into which you will walk, sunlight streaming from your slender limbs, all troubles and cares erased from your now bright future. It won’t. Publication ends up being just one more damn thing to do.
Finding happiness in your work, in the beauty and wonder of putting words to the page, that will last forever.
So stop worrying and just keep writing. That will make you happy. Promise.