When You're Weary, Feelin' Small

April 28, 2014

Many weary folks exposed to the current economy and painful political cycle are looking for inspiration to help them make sense out of seeming chaos. Authors are feeling some pain, too, caught in the middle of the often drastic changes in the publishing industry that afford equal parts great opportunity and paralyzing confusion. Even bestselling authors aren't immune, many of whom have left their traditional publishers in favor of self-publishing or others who are left wondering what the future holds and which road (or roads) to take.


I wish I had all the answers or at least great advice to impart as to what you should do, but I'm scratching my head so hard these days, it's in danger of bleeding. Traditional or indie? Both? Blogs or website? Self-marketing or hiring out professionals? Book trailer? Book signing in increasingly fewer numbers of stores? Facebook or Twitter? Pinterest or Tumblr? Facebook or Flickr? All of the above? Platform this, platform that—with no time left for writing.


I came across an interview with the talented actor Frank Langella gave to Playbill (and I don't care what today's clueless young people think, Langella is the sexiest vampire ever). He stars in a new movie as a man whose adult children pair him up with a robot to look after him. In answer to the question, "Did you see alienation from each other (thanks to modern technology/social media/cellphones, etc.) as inexorable?" he replied,


"More and more gadgets and things attached to you on all parts of your body are going to determine emotions and feelings and everything. And maybe the human brain will change over the next centuries and decades. When fewer and fewer people are required to interact with each other, people will become born with less need for human contact."


Later in the interview he says one of the most liberating things I think any author needs to hear and repeat to themselves daily:


"If you stick to your soul, it will stick to you. So many people in my profession don't stick to their soul. And they end either tragically or sadly. And it takes a lifetime to understand that simple phrase. But I think if there is a theme in the book (his memoir), it's the idea that being famous is really not a very important goal. It's like money, wealth, sex, you know, physical pleasure, honors, awards, titles, all those things — they just come and go."


And finally, his thoughts on pursuing any goal or target, especially obsessing over it, whether it's fame, a particular award, to be number one of the bestseller lists, that the best place to be is in the water and trying to get to shore and never getting there, because that means you're alive:


"Because once you're there on shore, what else is there? It's better to stay in the water and just swim. Just swim and always look in the distance for a place to land — but don't land. One of the things I say is: I don't think there's any comfort in the safe landing. People are always saying 'It's time to settle down.' That's just nonsense. Keep flying. Always keep flying. It's better."


I think the takeaway truth is, if you're writing for a quick buck or trying to ride a fad, good luck to you, but don't expect that approach to last you a career or a lifetime. Only when you learn to write for the sheer joy of it and work at it daily like a professional calling will you find the kind of success that nourishes the soul. There are plenty of wealthy, famous, powerful people out there who are miserable, divorced, addicts or even die by their own hand, to believe that money and fame alone are all you need. Write your joy, write your sadness, write your soul. Whether the money follows or not, you'll still be rich.

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