Over the weekend I finished reading Anne Lamott’s “Bird by Bird”. Years ago I had a friend who said it was baloney, that you couldn’t learn anything about writing from it. I’m not surprised I stopped talking to him because I can see now that he was mostly full of sh*t. He had some very smart things to say and he was a great friend and mentor, but looking back, I’m seeing that some of the stuff he believed as gospel was all sound and fury. (One of my favorite Shakespeare quotes: It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.)
Anyway, at the end of “Bird by Bird” was a mention that publishing can’t be the be-all, end-all of writing, and that one who writes should do so for the sheer joy of it. (On the concept that the rest will follow, and even if it doesn’t, the reward is in the writing, not the publication.) I can’t imagine a wannabe writer out there who lies back in bed at night and thinks, “I want to write something that never leaves this house!” We all want to see our names in print, followed by flowery prose extolling the virtues of our exceptional talents. But when you think about it, of the millions of people in this country right now who at the very least THINK they can write a book, maybe fifty percent will start to write one, and ten percent of them will actually finish it. Of that ten percent, five percent will go through the rewrite and editing process before sending their Magnum Opus off to an editor or agent, and a fraction of those people will get a positive response. The odds are spectacularly slim that we could ever make a living as writers, but we dream of it anyway. (Bear in mind that I have no idea if these statistics are true; I’m just taking a wild guess but I’ve heard the odds of being published are about as bad I’ve said they are.)
There is a certain amount of virtue in having completed the job itself. (Which of the Hollywood production companies uses the slogan, “Ars gratia artis”? I think it’s MGM.) I used to dance around the dining room after I wrote The End, and I’d be so excited, I could barely sit still for the rest of the day. Once I toasted to my characters’ future, after the story, with a cup of tea on my grandmother’s china. There’s an incredible amount of pride in conceptualizing the story and seeing it through to its fruition, so that publication could almost be something of an afterthought. The icing on the cake, as it were.
But damn, isn’t the icing the best part of the cake?
Something Lamott said in “Bird” rang true with me. I can’t recall the exact quote but it was something along the lines that you should be happy with yourself before you’re published because you’re going to be exactly the same person after you’re published. It makes a lot of sense to me, and it can be applied to every other “I wish” situation as well. If you think you’ll be a better person after you get that new car or that better computer or that perfect haircut or you’ve lost X amount of pounds, and THEN you’ll like yourself, why do you have to wait for that thing to happen? Why can’t you like yourself, and who you are, now? What’s stopping you? What difference is that thing going to make in how you see yourself?
The approval we’re seeking can’t come from the outside, though it’s really nice when it does happen. (Publication, a job promotion, a bigger house/nicer car.) On an everyday basis, though, we have to approve of ourselves. No matter what happens, no matter who in our lives comes and goes, we’re going to be with ourselves for the rest of our lives. We might as well make friends with ourselves, and be our own biggest fan.