Sunday, January 17, 2010

No Guarantees

Feeling out of sorts? Despairing over your manuscript? Not sure how readers will respond, or if you’ll hear from your editor tomorrow or next week or next month?

Trying to work on another project even as you feel linked to a past project in ways that make it hard to move forward or look ahead?

Hoping to find the passion to develop a new story without any assurance that it will succeed?

That’s always the deal, isn't it?

There are no guarantees when it comes to writing.

Yet when you pick up your pen and begin to write, it's hard not to expect something. If you work hard enough and study the craft long enough and devote yourself to your practice, you expect that in time you’ll find yourself with a book for publication, a product worth something.

That's how it works in other fields, isn't it? A lawyer who studies law or a doctor who studies medicine or a businessman who studies business invest a certain amount of time and reap financial rewards for their efforts. The formula is simple: you put in the time to develop skills + acquire knowledge = money back and a secure future.

But that’s not how it works in writing.

As a writer, you can write pages and pages until there’s a stack as high as the ceiling.

You can spend hours reading and analyzing stories, attending workshops, participating in critique groups.

Each of these activities will help you progress as a writer, but none of these things can guarantee that a book will emerge when all the writing and reading is done.

What you will find is a deeper sense of yourself and what you're passionate about--what you want to work on--and a better understanding of the craft of writing (what works on the page and what’s not working because it’s not yet on the page).

You'll develop an ear more attuned to the nuances of voice and a greater sense of what makes a story succeed and the steps needed to make a story complete.

And yet--even then--none of these things will guarantee a book in the end.

As a writer, you have to live with this uncertainty.

The only guarantee is that if you continue writing you’ll become a better writer.

And that has to be enough.

For more on writing without guarantees, visit:

1 comment:

Jack said...

Gosh, I have to agree with you on all those insights, Bruce. It's a tough walk but the exercise is worth it.

Started reading the new biography of "Raymond Carver--A Writer's Life," by Carol Sklenicka. I'm thoroughly enjoying it. Ray had a pretty bare bones life early on, but hung in there. Interesting to see he was an early student of John Gardner, at Chico State, and to learn a little of their association.