Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Last Writer on Earth...

Papa writing in London during WWII

In his book about winning the creative battle, The War of Art, author Steven Pressfield asks, "If you were the last person on earth, would you still write?" So, what of it? If you suddenly found yourself all alone on this big black and blue planet, would you still spend your days putting words on a page?

If you are already issuing an emphatic Yes to this question, you are a true artist. If you are saying yes, but deep down inside, you know you wouldn't write so much as a comma, you're not a true artist. You're into the glory of it all, writing for the sake of fortune and fame, which of course, you feel entitled to.

Why did you start writing in the first place? Was it to fulfill some sort of inner desire? A need to craft words and sentences into something that seems truer on the page than it if happened in real life? Do you respect your art and talent, and do you respect the art and talent of others? How much time do you devote to your craft? How much "life" do you sacrifice in order to be a better writer regardless of your age? Do you give it your all without thinking about fame or financial reward or popularity? Would you write even if you were the last living person on the earth?

Perhaps your ambitions as a writer are purely selfish. Maybe you're like the kid who desperately
wants to be a part of the popular gang and is willing to do anything to grab a spot on the inside. Does working day in and day out without recognition just plain piss you off? Maybe you wish to jump start your success by hiring another writer to pen your words for you. Maybe your the vindictive type who leaves 1-star reviews for books that are propelled to the top of the Amazon lists in the hope that this will discourage readers from purchasing. Perhaps you think that regardless of the billions of souls occupying planet earth, you are the only writer. It's your books that count. Everyone else's are just taking up space and/or, stealing your glory.

I'm the first to admit, that when I saw old pictures of writers like Ernest Hemingway and Martha Gellhorn, carousing with friends, fishing, traveling to exotic locals, being adored by fans, I knew I wanted to be a writer. But I was young and foolish. It wasn't until I faced the absolute truth about the agonizing hard work that goes into being a successful writer, that I realized for all the fun Hemingway seemed to be having, he was putting in a whole lot of labor and sacrifice to get there.

Authors need to be thick-skinned to be sure. Good reviews and bad reviews are all well and good so long as they bring attention to the work. But do they matter in the long run? What matters in the end is that you can look at yourself in the mirror and admit without a doubt that if you had to do it all over again, you would write the same exact novel, word for word. You would not change a thing. You wrote it because you had to. Because it was a means to its own end, not a means for glory or fame or money. These things are nice, but they are only tangential and secondary in importance.

We write because we have a gift. Why we possess that gift is a great mystery. The writing centers us and soothes us and satisfies us like nothing else can. It makes us who we are. No God, or food, or sexual act can compete with the desire to write as well as one can, and then to wake up the next day and do it even better than the day before. Even if we were the last person on earth, we would write with all the negative capability we could muster.



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