FOR many years, I suffered with a silent (and not-so-silent) soul-crushing need to “make it” as a writer. The craving for financial success was so strong; it eventually took control of my life. I became addicted to the idea of becoming a successful writer. It was all that I thought about, all that I chanted for. It caused me to toss and turn at night consumed by an unquenchable thirst to prove, and replicate, my commercial success as an artist.
This desire led me to enter several business partnerships with people who did not appreciate what I brought to the table. I allowed myself to be enslaved by empty promises with little financial reward. I gave up my creative senses to chase after the dangling treat like a monkey. Blind to the loss of self-respect I'd built putting in my time, heart and soul, at the keyboard; eventually, I forgot why I’d started writing in the first place.
My writing partners suffered sharp retorts, long hours, tears and confusion. Apologies were followed by desperate attempts to salvage relationships as the projects we’d so loved never came to fruition.
I even subscribed to the email lists and podcasts of fellow scribes who promised to lead me to literary success. I followed their instructions toward best-seller domination, pushing myself harder and harder with the belief that if I just gave more and wanted it more, one day I would eat that delicious carrot. It would fulfill me. And I would live happily-ever-after in some sort of magical writer land where people drank tea and stared out of windows all day – dreaming for a living.
I finally hit rock bottom when another creative partnership ended and the darlings were buried in unmarked graves at a cemetery. Broke, still unpublished and unproduced, I quit. I closed the laptop and took a day job.
For two years, I binged on Netflix, hiked, chanted and thought about going to college to begin a new profession. I even ghost wrote several books for clients. But I did not think about my own writing.
Gone was the girl who’d loved words as much as food, air and sunshine. I’d driven her out of town.
We live in a culture where art is not seen as necessary to human happiness and survival. But worldly success, financial success, is. Doing the work for the sake of the work doesn’t matter as much as the outcome. We are addicted to instant results; driven by the need to get as many “likes” as possible to validate our activities. Writers want to see the book turned into the film turned into the television series that will fill our bank accounts forever. These are impossible standards.
Don’t get me wrong, an artist deserves to make a good living. What we give to the community, society at large, is of great value. We tell the stories that help people feel. We build bridges to connect communities, and open doors that have been closed for centuries. There’s nothing like a good story. Whether you read it in the newspaper or watched it on HBO last Sunday.
Human beings have always told stories– on cave walls, freeway overpasses, and even around the fire. Writing matters. It is as important as any industry. Writing helps us make sense of our lives, carry history forward, learn and survive. And whether worldly success is the result of telling a good story has nothing to do with the value and necessity of its existence.
I prayed to resuscitate the girl who’d loved words. I read and listened to interviews with artists. I watched films about the lives of artists. I went to museums and listened to great music. And very slowly, I started to pay attention again to the art of a face, the lilt of a voice, the history of the person in front of me. I grew quiet and watched the morning light filter through the leaves on the tree outside my bungalow window.
And then one day, an image of a man arrived. He wore a yellow rain slicker. I took a closer look. He was standing in a boat on a choppy sea. The starboard inscription read, “Greenpeace.” I wondered who he was. If he would become happy.
The girl had returned home to me.
Writers beware of the need for worldly success. It can creep up when you least expect it. If you over-indulge this desire you will lose your soul, your integrity and love of the craft.
Pay attention. Use wisdom. Do it gracefully. Or do it kicking and screaming. It may never be quenched, but you don’t have to feed it, either. It’s a tricky balancing act. Sometimes you have to just write stuff for people who treat you like crap to make a buck; during those times, please keep a new piece tucked away safely in your back pocket. If you’re lucky, one day beauty and gain might merge.
Until then, if we must be addicted, let us be addicted to sharing our stories.