Zenith Rising: A Story for Our Times

What it Means to be a Writer


Your father asked me to write to you about what it means to be a writer. He asked me, I suppose because I have been writing all my life and just had my first novel published. And therein lies a tale both cautionary and celebratory. 

There is no greater feeling than holding your own published novel in your hands. I had suspected that would be true for years, and last month, my suspicions were confirmed. On the other hand, there is no greater frustration than pouring your soul out, by days and nights, and having the product of your labors meet--not rejection, not scorn, but apathy. It is with apathy that the publishing world wounds most harshly, and most readily, because apathy is weapon with which editors, agents and publishers seem most fully equipped. They are happy to tell you if your work is lacking, and on those rare occasions, to praise it. It is that vast gulf of silence which lies between that can be so exhausting. 

Therefore, if you would pursue a writer's life, be prepared for the apathy, which means be prepared for the self-inflicted pain of self-doubt and recrimination. The writer's life is a lonely life, regardless of how many friends you have. In fact, the more friends you have, the more lonely your life becomes because it becomes more difficult to find the time, and the space, to settle down to do that thing you need to do to be a writer. Which is to write. 

Of course, all this negativity means nothing if you are a writer, because if you are a writer, you have to write. You will say, "Don't give me your horror stories, I don't care." And if you don't care, then maybe you've taken the first step to being a writer. 

You'll notice I said the first step to being a writer, not becoming a writer. You don't become a writer. You are one, or you aren't, regardless of whether you've ever written a single word, You can become a better writer, a more polished one, one who knows more tricks. You can be successful at writing without being a writer, and you can fail at writing when it is the only thing you ever wanted to do in your whole life. Read "The Alien Corn," by Somerset Maugham, to see a good example of that latter point.


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