Per my ‘why bother‘ piece, hopefully you’ve done the necessary questioning of your own motives and analysis of the merit and viability of your story, your idea and your process. The thing is, even if one has answered the question of why to bother, one still might find occasion to ask: what happens when you feel like giving up? What if you wonder why you should continue with such a risky, exhausting, occasionally humbling and/or humiliating mission as presenting your work to the world with any hope of living off of some combination of vision and craft?
First of all, I think it’s important to remember that this is by no means a ridiculous train of thought. Some of history’s most highly regarded successes were, at some point, either tremendous flops–or were given many reasons to question their merit or resolve. Allowing for matters of taste, and regardless of your opinion of what constitutes greatness of art, practically every genre of film or literature has books, movies, artists, actors and actresses, directors, musicians or authors who were rejected, panned, even ridiculed upon their debut. In the world of sports, there are examples of early failures who went on to greatness; Michael Jordan was cut from a basketball team as a kid! Mike Piazza, widely considered the greatest-hitting catcher in major league baseball history, was drafted in the last possible round–as a favor. Tom Brady and Kevin Durant, both perennial superstars, were practically lampooned by some scouts because of their physical attributes. The unfortunate fact is, sometimes greatness is beset by doubt and failure early on. In some ways, publishing is the worst for this sort of thing; the world of publishing and literature is, to a large degree, an undemocratic racket. It’s an odd combination of ludicrously mindless populism and ludicrously self-fulfilling elitism. Sometimes the world of publishing, especially self-publishing, can be discouraging, mortifying, and worse; you can’t play your way into the lineup, play your album at parties, hand out mixtapes and move people in minutes or hours. Which returns me to the point of departure: even if you’ve gotten to the point where you truly have a sense of (hopefully well founded) conviction in your literary craft, you’re still quite liable to feel like a hopeless, misguided dope from time to time. So what do you do then? This is an important time to remember whatever support you might be lucky enough to have, even if it seems slight.
I can’t stress this enough: if you have people who are truly behind you and alongside you through the process, this makes you fortunate in at least that measure. People who root for you; people who support you; people who want you to succeed; people who come to your events, buy your books, lend you money, give you feedback, tell people about you, do all of the things that good supporters do, be they friend or family or neighbor–they are huge; they do it because they like you, love you, admire you, pull for you, are impressed by you, maybe even envy you in a positive ‘live vicariously’ way. All of them are invaluable, even the ones that only come to one event or tell one friend or buy one book or express happiness for you just one time. Your success, or however far you might get, is the sum total of not merely everything you put into it, but also your fortune and misfortune–your good breaks and bad breaks–and it is absolutely not a meritocracy, this world of ours. Not the publishing world, nor hardly any other. And included amongst your fortunes, if you are so lucky, are all of the aforementioned: everyone who gave so much as an hour of their time, a dollar from their wallets, or an encouraging sentence from their mouths. If you think I’m being trite, remember this: there are countless people in the world whose dreams, talents and aspirations–no matter how potent, heartfelt, determined or inspired–fall on deaf ears, never see the light of day, or even worse, are met with unfairness, punishment, derision or worse. If you’re lucky enough to have had any help at all, cherish it and value every piece of it. And use it to keep you going. I’m not an advocate of living one’s life to please others–there are more than enough people who lead miserable, ‘successful’ lives for the wrong reasons–but there are times when it bears remembering that, if a bunch of other people saw fit to invest time, money, hope, or even kind words or encouragement in you, then perhaps your efforts are worth the investment. This brings me to my last point…
If you’re really lucky, and by really lucky I mean really really really lucky, you might have someone in your corner who not only wants you to succeed for many of the commendable reasons that people might want someone to succeed. If you’re really lucky, you have someone in your corner who sees your vision from close enough to the inside that they’re really invested in it, for something resembling the reasons you’re really invested in it. If you have anyone like that, that’s a treasure not to be taken lightly. Someone like that will help you flourish, help you become a better version of the presence you’re trying to be, and help remind you why it’s worth staying the course when you’re tired and discouraged. Bearing in mind the above, about hopefully not having to live your life under someone else’s auspices, this someone can also be, in a healthy way, someone whose faith and belief you don’t want to disappoint. Not because of fear of consequences or shame, but because their belief reminds you of the validity of your own belief. Part of this person’s unwritten task is to help you understand when you’re barking up the wrong tree; blind faith is not made of nearly as good stuff as well-founded allegiance. But if you have someone like that, then you also know you can trust it when they encourage you to stay the course…and then you’re really lucky.
But alas, I digress. The point herein, I believe, is this: if you believe your conviction to be sound, and you’re lucky enough to have any support at all, then don’t discount your good fortune. Use it as a life raft when you’re treading, and remember it when you regain your stroke.
To all my life rafts: Thanks.
And good luck to you, fellow swimmers.