Recently, a writing pal shared with our online freelance community some words of wisdom from Writer’s Almanac about the value of the writing process. It was one of those excerpts I immediately latched onto and knew I’d be blogging about in short order. Words like these aren’t meant to be hidden away.
The author, Andre Dubus II, is talking about how when a manuscript is submitted (or “mailed out to the world where other truths prevail,” as he says), the possibility exists that it will never be picked up for publication. If so, he cautions, the writer could well “suffer bitterness, sorrow, anger, and, more dangerously, despair, convinced that the work was not worthy, so not worth those days at the desk.”
But Dubus recognizes the danger in this kind of thinking, likely because he’s learned from experience. Having overcome the twisted logic, however, he wants to share his hard-earned wisdom with others. And so he gives encouragement, saying:
“But the writer who endures and keeps working will finally know that writing the book was something hard and glorious, for at the desk a writer must try to be free of prejudice, meanness of spirit, pettiness, and hatred; strive to be a better human being than the writer normally is, and to do this through concentration on a single word, and then another, and another.”
Isn’t that great? Okay, it’s better than great. Let me repeat for emphasis sake: “…for at the desk a writer must try…to be a better human being than the writer normally is…through concentration on a single word, and then another, and another.”
Yes! Yes! And Triple Yes!
Oh, but Dubus isn’t finished; not yet. He goes on:
“This is splendid work, as worthy and demanding as any, and the will and resilience to do it are good for the writer’s soul.”
Did you hear that? (I get so excited about the little things in life…) “This…work…and the will…to do it are good for the writer’s soul.” Oh, and let’s not forget that he calls the work SPLENDID…as worthy and demanding as any. (Any writer knows this to be true! Or at least hopes that it is so.)
I’m still with him. Are you? Well now, let me warn you. There’s an if coming up. But trust me on this. It will be okay in the end. Just wait and see.
“If the work is not published, or is published for little money and less public attention, it remains a spiritual, mental, and physical achievement; and if, in public, it is the widow’s mite, it is also, like the widow, more blessed.”
I know. This is where some writers are inclined to become mightily discouraged. “But I want my work to receive due compensation. I don’t want to settle for the widow’s mite. And even more, I want all the glory associated with the writer’s life!”
Okay, so here is where I want to extrapolate just a bit. I would never discourage a writer from seeking compensation for work that is worthy of it. I also don’t believe a writer ought to set out with low expectations about her efforts and only expect the widow’s mite for her work.
But…for the spiritually-minded…there is more. Even if, by some series of unfortunate events, the submission process does not result in the recognition and compensation the writing and writer deserve, there is still so much gain. So much! To speak of one, the writer ends up…blessed. What could be better than that, really?
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again now: no writing is ever wasted. Even if the reward isn’t immediate or obvious, it will come. It’s so much like the spiritual journey, isn’t it? We must look Big Picture whenever approaching disappointment in the writing life or suffering in general.
Now then, dear writer friend, please let these words of Dubus be an encouragement to you. Let them be what frees you to take pen in hand and set out to write what you will, and see where it takes you. If it takes you through 250 pages that turn into a book-length manuscript, you will have accomplished something very few people do. Yes, even if that work (made up of one word, and then another and another) does not find light in this world, you will be changed forever. You will be stronger, just for the effort. You will be more compassionate, for what your own writing has revealed to you. And you will be more human.
When all is said and done, and with this excerpt from Dubus now analyzed from this angle, I can only come to one conclusion, and it’s in the form of a question: What’s to be lost? What?
Go, write, and be transformed! Start with one word, add another, and then another…and see where you go. Could anything be more thrilling?
Q4U: How do you feel about the widow’s mite? Do the words of Dubus make you feel frustrated or free?
For the rest of the Dubus quote, go to the middle section of this page.