I was invited to give a talk tomorrow to the Orange County Romance Writers' Association. When the asked me to visit, they asked if I wanted to talk about something related to craft or something related to inspiration. I thought that was very nice of them, and very wise. Novelists, after all, need both. I kept proposing topics related to craft, because it's hard to think of oneself as someone who is inspirational, and they kept turning me down: "Someone talked about that last month," they said, or "someone's talking about that in November." I finally resorted to inspiration, and the title of this blog is the title of my talk.
I don't, of course, actually know how to stay motivated when the economy stinks and the world of publishing is changing by the hour. It's something I struggle with pretty much every day, all the while plotting out what I'll do when the whole thing comes crashing down. (Bag groceries comes up frequently, in this context, as does graphic design -- even though I can can't draw, only know the most basic parts of the most basic online design tools and have no training whatsoever.) But I did a lot of thinking and soul searching and I came up with three arguments for staying motivated:
1.) Stories will never die. The medium of delivery may change, but human beings were designed to tell stories and to share stories, and nothing is going to put an end to that. As Ursula LeGuin said, "There have been great societies that did not use the wheel, but there have been no societies that did not tell stories." We could argue that our society isn't "great" -- but let's not.
2.) It's never been about the money. No one goes into writing to make a fortune. Okay, some do -- Jack Canfield comes to mind. But most writers are doing this work because they love it, and feel called to it, and so the fact that the marketplace is unstable shouldn't deter us. In a powerful piece in Forbes magazine, Elizabeth Eaves wrote, "In short, book-writing is a worse-than-ever means to a livelihood, and mass-market renown is disappearing as a concept, fractioning into a million niches. Ultimately the only good reason to write books remains what it probably always was: The compulsion to try to entertain, persuade or make meaning is irresistible, and the process absorbs you like nothing else. If it doesn't, there's no reason to bother." Here, here!
3.) I'm good at it. That's what Flannery O'Connor said when she was asked why she became a writer: "Because I'm good at it." I may not have the talent Ms. O'Connor had, and I may never enjoy the success she did, but being good at something can be measured in a lot of ways. I know I'm good at writing because it engages me like nothing else -- and it turns out that this matters. In his book, Flow, psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's talks about being "in the zone" which is what I feel when I am writing well. "Contrary to what we usually believe, moments like these, the best moments of our lives, are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times ... The best moments of our lives usually occur when a person's body or mind is stretched to the limits in a voluntary moment to achieve something difficult and worthwhile. Optimal experience is thus something we make happen ... For each person there are thousands of opportunities, challenges to expand ourselves."
Writing -- what we do at our desk every day -- has little to do with what's happening in the economy or the world of publishing. There are various points in the process when those realities will come to bear on it, but they are few and far between. As Junot Diaz says, "You see, in my view a writer is a writer not because she writes well and easily, because she has amazing talent, because everything she does is golden. In my view a writer is a writer because even when there is no hope, even when nothing you do shows any sign of promise, you keep writing anyway."
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