Elisa Albert wrote this article, and I found myself just nodding along with everything she was saying, so I am going to stack her words with mine, because I really can't say them any better.
Even though I'm not where I want to be with my writing career yet, I understand the chasm between the work and the recognition. We're always trying to close it up, like somehow they equate. I published a successful book and have a lot of social and media attention = I'm a great writer.
But that's not real. I haven't even gotten to that point and I already know it. Because the work is the work. And if there's one thing I've learned from being an author for 4+ years, six novels in, it's that the work is what matters. And I've learned that even if the rest of my books never get published and even if I never get recognition and gold stars and high fives for what I do - I would still do it. And to me, that is a very important thing to know about myself.
Kurt Vonnegut said, "Practice any art, music, singing, dancing, acting, drawing, painting, sculpting, poetry, fiction, essays, reportage, no matter how well or badly, not to get money and fame, but to experience becoming, to find out what's inside you, to make your soul grow."
We're a global world, thanks to the internet. I see so many things on a daily basis. Films of people and their families, professional films, well-edited photographs, beautiful clothes, blogs, people who pour their souls out, people who preach politics, people who embroider flowers on their t-shirts, people who make art out of spray paint and gum, and people who recreate photographs of their ancestors. I read poems that used to send chills straight through me and keep scrolling when I'm done like a junkie - on to my next high. On to something, someone else, always on the hunt for anything fresh or new.
And I know I'm not alone in that. I know I'm not the only one numb to the fact that there are creators - people who spend hours making this stuff - for what? For likes on it? For recognition? For brands to collaborate with? For people to give them hearts and comments and follows - but what else?
Those things can possibly allow you to continue to create the work, which is great. But the work still has to be the work.
And for me, there has to be more than the dings and hearts. There has to be soul in it. There has to be the passion behind the work always. The person who could flip numbly through Instagram while watching Project Runway with their hand in a bag of chips but instead decides to practice poetry, or knit a mural or freaking tap dance. There is so much beauty in the uncelebrated. We need to celebrate that. We need to encourage our sisters and parents and children and friends that to create for the sake of creating is reason enough.
"Maybe we are misguided enough to believe that what’s most important is that people care, regardless of whether or not we get it exactly right. Maybe getting it right doesn’t even matter if no one cares. Maybe not getting it right doesn’t matter if everyone cares. If I write an excellent book and it’s not a bestseller, did I write the excellent book? If I write a middling book and it is a bestseller, does that make it an excellent book? If I wander around looking for it on bookstore shelves so I can photograph it and post online, have I done good? If I publish a book and don’t heavily promote it, did I really publish a book at all!?"
I'm not perfect at my art. I hear critics in my head. I hear teens reading it and saying, "We don't talk like that." I hear agents who think my first sentence is "Too slow" or I'm "Trying too hard," which I will continue to take as a compliment every single time. Because I'm trying. I'm practicing. And dammit you self-absorbed agents, it's not always about you. Maybe this whole thing is a practice of becoming. Maybe the work is the work is the work and that is enough. Maybe my soul is growing. Maybe not everything is for you and your taste, but for the misunderstood junior high girl who I know because I still am her. Maybe it's not about the fame, but about sharing a piece of our souls with someone else who might recognize themselves.
"And anyway, haven’t we collectively imbibed sufficient narrative about the perils of success and fame already? Haven’t we seen how fame can destroy and corrupt, how ambition and greed are twins? How recognition can pervert and compromise? We’re all struggling with our own unique little demon conglomerate, and we all have some good luck and some bad luck. Nobody can tell you how to be happy because being happy is one of those things you figure out by figuring it out, no shortcuts. Or maybe you don’t figure it out, maybe you never figure it out, but that’s on you. Everything worthwhile is a sort of secret, anyway, not to be bought or sold, just rooted out painstakingly in whatever darkness you call home."
"Everything worthwhile is a sort of secret, anyway, not to be bought or sold, just rooted out painstakingly in whatever darkness you call home."
I think of everything I am. Everything I care about. My work matters to me, it matters to me tremendously, and any day I don't write seems to not count. That is how I recognize its importance to me. But other things matter too. Picking Claire up from preschool on time. Her lunches and playdates and fears. I think about Kevin and his lack of sleep. I collaborate with clients, and have other work - that I don't consider the "work" but is still work and is still important to me. There is God, and sisters to call and my Mom to text back and piano and music and my cakes and my friends. I am more than my work. But I am not whole without it, and I think that is an important distinction.
“Real” work is often invisible, and maybe sort of sacred as such. The hollering and clamoring and status anxiety and PR two inches from our collective eyeballs all day? Not so much. So tell the gatekeepers to shove it, don’t play by their rules, and get back to work on whatever it is you hold dear. Nothing’s ever been fair. Nothing will ever be fair. But there is ever so much work to be done. Pretty please can I go back to my silly sweet secret sacred novel now? Bye. Take care.