I’ve heard it said that sheep spend their time at pasture looking for ways to die. They’re relatively stoic creatures, so by the time they act sick, it’s often too late. They seem fine one day and they’re dead the next.
Writers are apparently the same way with disappointment. While not writing, we look for ways to feel bad about ourselves.
Last week I attended a conference with a wildly-successful writer who just turned in her eighteenth book.
“Wow,” I said.
She held thumb and forefinger barely apart. “They’re thin,” she answered. “I’m actually getting dumber with every passing day.”
She’s not, of course, but she swears she is.
Another writer on twitter tells stories that tunnel right through to my heart. I laugh out loud. I cry. His explorations change the way I see life and enrich my perceptions of my Kansas heritage.
And yet he worries about apostrophes and sentence structure. He thinks he’s not good enough to be a “real writer.” I tell him that he damn well is and that writing is so much more than a sum of grammatical parts. Any editor can fix those tiny things.
And I’m sure he thinks I’m humoring him–because he is, after all, a writer. The only thing we fear more than rejection is false praise.
Another friend confesses that, despite glowing reviews, she worries because she’s been often nominated, but never selected, for any prestigious award.
Another with a Ph.D. worries she’ll look stupid because she does not have the vocabulary to talk about novel writing.
I can shake my head, but who am I kidding? I’ve been writing long enough to survive multiple episodes of dark days and doubt. My last had me wondering about famous writers and that stroke of genius that makes them who they are. No matter what they write, we hear that quality in their voice and we love them. And so, just like a sheep contemplating lethal ways to get her head stuck in a fence, I ask myself, “What if my writing has an opposite effect on readers? What if that thing that makes me special is the one thing no one wants?”
And yet we persist.
This week at Idaho Writers and Readers Rendezvous, Mary Clearman Blew reiterated the importance of tenacity for writers. She said you can often tell when writers are going to give up. “You can just feel them veering off and thinking they’d rather have a life.”
I laugh because I’ve cornered myself into such a negative ending. As a writer primed for disappointment, having a life sounds amusing and fun. So what was my point?
Oh yes. Not every stoic sheep is dying. And not every disappointed writer wants to quit. Some of us are just really good at getting our heads stuck in fences and wailing about it. It’s what we do. And then we write about it.