I don’t make a living wage from the books that I write. The title of my books has never been on any of those newspaper bestseller’s lists. I can’t pay my bills from the proceeds of my writing.
On bad days, I hold these as marks of my failure. On good days, I know that these are the facts of the vast, vast, vast majority of writers living in the world and keep going anyway.
Failure, in my writing life, is not a steady thing, either in experience or in definition.
Last week, Shawn Smucker wrote about his experience of failure as a writer, and his post was inspired by the thoughts of Seth Haines. I’ve been pondering their wisdom, carrying it around like a walking stick to help me on my journey . . . because right now, I feel like a failure in a fundamental way, even though I know the truth of miscarriage and the “chromosomal abnormality” that probably caused our child’s death. I am, though, not unaccustomed to failure, and so in that way, life is a learning and a building, a scarring that gives strength.
I am not one to concentrate on failure – in my weaker days, I “soldier on” and “put it behind me.” But I have learned in a lifetime’s worth of failures that sitting with the failure – or maybe more with the grief that comes after it – is the way forward. Healing comes in the quiet days of stunned silence after something falls apart or peters out too early.
And then success, well, it comes in the daily practice of living, of putting the words down, of taking the prenatal vitamins of hope every day, of stepping into the joy of a mountain view, of knowing the tears become part of streams and stars and tears again. Maybe success is just a lot of failures woven together into story.
The story I know of the writing life – of life period, I think – is one where the most courageous, the most diligent, the most wise, the most talented, the most honest of us don’t always succeed, at least in the way the world defines success. But the story I know of life is also this – there is gift in the living, even in the days that begin with screams of pain and fury, even in the pages in the drawer that no one ever reads, even in 8 weeks of life that were only a heartbeat and the beginning of fingers.
That is the great mystery. That is the great gift. That is story.