There’s an interesting expanding discussion, through several journals, of whether hard work and grit and stubborness and such are enough to succeed as a writer — or whether, because there’s such a strong element of luck involved, and such a large chance of failure, it’s providing false hope to suggest hard work will get you somewhere as a writer.

With all such things, of course the truth is somewhere in between: you have to be really stubborn and hard working; and no matter how hard you work, yes, you may fail.

But there’s a larger issue here; because in several of the threads, what I’m hearing discussed is how, basically, you can wind up with a messed-up life if you try to succeed and fail. Especially when you could have spent your time doing other things where the hard-work=success formula is more clear cut, instead.

And that danger–it’s not a small thing–you can trash your life when you fail. You really can.

Or, you can try to work out how to fail without trashing your life.

This is a really, really tricky thing; and I think an ongoing struggle for many writers. I remember a point–sometime during the long stretch between selling Ghost Horse and selling Secret of the Three Treasures, when my mood hinged on what showed up in the mailbox. I was getting really depressed, too, because the mailbox wasn’t being very kind, even though I knew I believed–and still believe–I was writing good work.

So I had to take a step back. To really think through this basic truth: My worth does not hinge on my writing career. I care about my writing career, deeply–but I had to work out, and get myself to believe, that I have worth whether or not I ever sell anything. This is something I think we writers (published or not) need to remind ourselves of regularly–because it’s easy to forget it, or stop believing it, when so much energy and time and spirit is going into writing. It’s a short step from forgetting we have worth even when nothing sells to feeling very unbalanced indeed.

But there’s a second part of this, and on the surface seems counter to all that advice about being stubborn and working so hard: you can’t stop living your life while you’re doing it.

When I first started writing, I was very young and very intense: every spare moment I spent writing. I probably needed that intensity, for a while, to get started at all. But eventually … I had to remember to have other interests. I had to get out, meet friends for lunch, develop some non-writing hobbies, chill with books, take time out to live in the world.

I think when we forget how to do this, we don’t just become unbalanced. We burn out.

When we let ourselves believe our worth hinges on what’s in the mailbox; and when we then burn out and so have more and more trouble getting things into the mail in the first place–that’s when we begin trashing our larger life. That’s when writers become bitter and depressed and treat family and friends and others around them badly. It’s also when one either gives up, meaning it all looks like wasted time; or doesn’t give up but doesn’t change anything, meaning begins to look pretty small and depressing, because really, the writing was all there was.

Or that one sits down, takes a hard look at one’s life, and finds that third way out. Balance is hard, but I think it’s also important, not right away, but over the long haul.

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