Wow. Say that ten times fast.
Motivation can be difficult to find in the best of times, especially when you’re trying your damnedest to hone the Powah of the Pen. And part of what makes it difficult is that what we each find motivating is different for each of us, dang it. Some of us are really propelled forward by the support of family and friends, others are set ablaze by a really inspiring example someone we admire sets for us, and others don’t get a push by anything other than a negative, “I’ll show you” mindset.
Despite my best efforts, I’m a contrarian at heart, especially with my self-esteem. As such, no matter what motivational force is in front of me, part of my brain/heart/soul/whatever finds a way to blockade it.
Friends and family support what I’m trying to do? Ah, well, they’re friends and family, and so of course they say that. It isn’t real, it’s obligatory, so it doesn’t count.
Those same friends and family are understandably apathetic to my pursuits? Well, the real, objective kicker is that nobody is obligated to give a damn about what you’re striving for. They’re not. And so, sometimes, that means you can feel like you have to care extra hard about it to make up the difference, and that’s incredibly taxing over time. So in those weak, tired moments, the weight of it can really easily translate into, “Who even cares? And why should I anymore?” And that’s a difficult hole to dig yourself out of.
My problem with the last one about folks being negative or dismissive is actually its absence. I don’t know why on Earth anybody would, but I don’t have anybody in my life who’s actively rooting against my writing career.
There was one.
A few years ago when I was preparing to try and make writing more of a serious pursuit, I went to a friend’s birthday party, and there was a lady there who was in a similar boat. She was a housewife without kids, and was seeking it as a way to occupy her time. Very much to her credit, she went to a few seminars, did a bit of public speaking at an event in the City, and through that linked up with an editor for The Bold Italic, a magazine out here that covers life n’ stuff in the San Francisco Bay Area. When my fiancee Amanda mentioned my plans, she replied, “Oh, I wouldn’t if I was him.” The implication being rather clear: “You don’t have what it takes, honey. Don’t quit your day job.”
And from there, when things got tough, there would be dark moments of doubt, before any sort of measurable success had occurred, and those words would ring in my head, burn in my chest, and weigh heavy, sure.
But a year later, we were back at this friend’s next birthday party, and there was this lady again. We get to talking, and she mentions that she remembers me as “that writer guy,” and asks “How did that work out?” (Politely spoken, in tone, but I did note the use of past tense.) This is when my friend, and wife to Birthday Boy himself, answers for me, saying that I’d been published–twice.
No matter how things should go from here, the look in her expression is something I will happily take with me to my grave.
Thank you, Claire. And I will forever be a fan of yours for that awesome, awesome defense of my honor. You rock.
She then motioned me to continue and explain that I had, to that point, been published twice, had a couple of podcast appearances, and had more work on the way. The sweetness would redouble when I reciprocated the question and found, as she told it, that she was no longer with the Italic because her editor had moved and stopped answering her emails, and the podcast she had founded couldn’t get off the ground because her co-producer sucked, etc etc. (And I know this reads as bitter, but it truly doesn’t extend beyond that given conversation. I genuinely hope she’s doing well at whatever she’s pursuing–now. And in fact I’m grateful.)
Anyway, the next time I needed to rage-channel my creativity against someone, I chose a famous guy.
Over my thankfully busy month of March, one of the things I got to do was take part in Flame Tree’s Author Q&A. In part of it, I got to talk about one of my favorite novels: Lamb, by Christopher Moore. I got to meet him a long time ago, and I have a signed copy of Lamb on my bookcase at this very moment. It’s one of those possessions that I’d make sure to save in the case of a housefire, if that carries my meaning.
But Lamb was one of two signatures I got from him the evening I met him, and the second one was the more formative of the two.
Now, I want to say here that when I met him I was eighteen or nineteen, and it was the first time I’d met someone whose name I had already known for famous reasons. I was nervous, excited, and I’m sure that I fan-boy’d pretty hard and that it was probably kind of awkward. I own that. So when I gave him my copy of his book Fool to sign, a story about King Lear’s jester, Pocket, he addressed it: “To Evan, Who Tries Really Hard! And fails -Christopher Moore”
Well’p. I had to try pretty hard to keep a happy face after reading it, I can tell ya that.
I also want to put that I’m sure- nay, positive that he wrote it in a kind-hearted way. And when you’re on a book tour like he was doing, and you have a hyperactive teenager in front of you, not every joke or fun jab is going to land the way you want it to. Wit is going to run dry every now and then. And in those cases it’s not your fault when that thing you mean as a playful inside joke stays with that kid for eleven-plus years, in those dark moments during the late nights at his desk, when passion evades him, words escape him, and the obsidian claws of doubt and weariness pry into his mind, and when his muse refuses to show itself so he forges a new one from your haphazardly scribbled words…
So I took up a sharpie and made a little addition:
It may read a little corny, and that’s fair, but as the old adage goes: “Fall seven times, rise eight.”
I’ve never really been bullish or tenacious, but I sure am willing to be persistent.
It’s about the Long Haul, bay-bee!
I’m not finding a link to it to put here, but when I was first getting started, Amanda found a book for me called “How Did I Get Published?” and it was a collection of blurbs and testimonials from successful authors on how they got their start. Chris had an entry and, to put it in brief here, he said that by the age of 30 he’d published precisely one short story in a magazine, and that he’d never seen a copy of that magazine; then he’d go on to publish his first novel in his early-thirties.
In a move that’s either pitiable or a little creepy (though I choose to see it as motivating), I decided I would race Chris’s schedule, putting me in a one-sided rivalry with the man without his knowledge.
Published one short story by the time he was 30? Through a blend of persistence, good fortune, and I’m sure I had to lie to somebody somewhere, I have ten, with more on the way.
Published his first novel in his early-thirties? I have a novella that I’m currently shopping around, but a full-fledged novel is also on its way, and Chris’s signature up there is what pushes me to finish that manuscript before my birthday in August.
And when it’s done and ready, this will definitely be part of the heroic origin story that I’ll be shoveling onto whatever literary agent gets saddled with me to shove my book at publishers.
In fact, one of the shiniest gold stars on my life’s story would be to one day meet him again, thank him for signing my book the way he did, and to give him a signed copy of a novel I’d penned.
Ah, to dream.