Tonight, I want to rant at all the people who have said that writing and art don’t matter, that only getting paid matters, that writing is a waste of time, that it’s selfish. I want to lay out a lightening bolt of angry heat that will destroy their arrogance and materialism. But that will not help because the arrogance gives them a shield as tough as as wombat’s ass and their materialism a bunker on which to sit on it.
So instead, I speak to you, writer – by which, of course, I mean me, and I say:
You and your work matter. Even if only your dad or that one random friend or your lover or you read it. You and your work matter in big ways – ways that save lives, maybe your own – and in small ways, like a prism in your mom’s best friend’s kitchen window when you were 8. You and your work matter.
You do not waste your time when you write; you waste your time when you talk yourself out of writing, for in that time you have told yourself a lie that you will lose more time undoing. So write. Think of all the time you’ll save.
Money and writing don’t need each other. We can do all kinds of things to make our living – shining shoes at the airport, walking dogs in the city, teaching 6th graders how to write really good sentences. Those are all worthy and wonderful occupations, and they may even be your vocation. But you don’t need to do them in order to have money to write. Writing is free. And while we hope, love, dance joyously when we get paid for our writing, we don’t need the pay to value our work. That value comes in the way it shapes us as people, in the way a reader writes an email to say, “yes, just that, yes,” in the way someone, someday keeps a copy of something we’ve written tucked into his Bible and reads it with teary eyes on a Sunday morning. Writing and money are mutually exclusive.
You have to find the value in writing for yourself and not hope that it will come from outside validation. Because it might not. You might never publish anything in a big literary magazine or with a big press. You may never rise up the bestseller’s list, even as you see books that are truly not as well written do so. You may never make enough money from your writing to even buy the ink and paper on which you write it. Still, write anyway. Because when you write what is true and real, when you find just the perfect words and the tone to express what you need, it feels like something clicks to center just behind your heart. Write anyway because someone, some day may pick up a copy of a literary magazine to which you submitted your junior year of college; she may read your poem about Gettysburg and write to you to say she loved the image there and thought of it when she visited. Write anyway because it is not up to you to determine how your work is valuable; it is only up to you that it exist.
Finally, you have to find a way to love the people who hate what you do, not because they deserve it and not because you need to invite them into your space to continually beat against you, but because being angry at them only gives their words power. Instead, find a way to see their fear and their pain. Hear their words about your writing being selfish and see that they may speak from their own belief about their work. Hear them say that writing for money is the only authentic way to write and realize that they may need that physical validation to feel their work has value at all. Give them your compassion, but don’t continue to invite them in. You don’t have time for that. You need to write.
So write on, lovely Whisperers. Write on.
If you could hear one word of encouragement for you as a writer today, what would you need to hear?
This afternoon, I will be sending out my March newsletter with opportunities to win AWP goodies and information about my next round of classes, including a three-week grammar intensive for writers of all sorts that begins in April. Sign up at right if you’d like to receive that newsletter. And if you’re already getting my daily posts, be sure to click the “newsletter” box to receive that as well. Thanks.