categories: Cocktail Hour
I’ve written in this space before about how long, steep bike rides are good metaphors for writing a book. But yesterday, as I pushed and slogged up a ride that once seemed everyday but is now monumental, I thought that what I was doing was also a fairly apt metaphor for a writing career.
It seems to me important to make a clear distinction between the writing itself and the attempt to get the writing out in the world. Obviously, both skill sets are needed to become a published writer in the first place, and also needed to publish books over the course of a career. The writing itself is what we usually talk about here, but for today let’s stick to this other thing. Unless you are insanely lucky, the getting of the work into the world takes almost as much persistence and commitment as the work itself. This is understandably frustrating to a young writer—“But my writing is good”—and remains to some degree frustrating to many published and not-so-young writers. I will not go as far as to say I am in control when I am at my writing desk,but I almost never feel as out of control as I do when I try to negotiate the world of publishing.
Of course the hill seems steepest from the bottom. I am full of admiration for the young writers I know who have been trying for years to get published, working at it every day despite the world’s indifference. By extension this means I’m full of admiration for my younger self, since I labored without any positive feedback, let alone publication, for over twelve years. At the time I didn’t regard what I was doing as heroic, but now, seeing others doing the same thing, I understand that there is at least some heroism involved.
The hardest part of yesterday’s ride was a section we used to call The Wall. It’s brutal and goes on forever. But having conquered it you pretty much feel you can do anything. It would be easy to suggest that The Wall represents that early unpublished stage of the career-ride. Easy but not entirely true. Because, while a young writer might not want to hear it, there are many Walls ahead. And while you may feel indomitable one day when you get up it, you still have to get up it again the next.
One thing you do gain, however—as my wife has pointed out to me—is the knowledge that it is possible to climb the thing. And those past climbs do give you some toughness, mental and otherwise, that will come in handy during the next ascent.
This admittedly has not been the most uplifting of Bad Advices. But I think I can muster a positive, if not ringing, conclusion. Because there is a sort of strange pleasure in trying to do the impossible, or at least the very large, on a regular basis. My former teacher, Reg Saner, a poet, essayist and mountaineer, calls it “the pleasure of the difficult.” As pleasure goes, it may feel a lot like pain. But it is if not a good pain then a necessary one. Without it there is no movement forward. Without it there can be no ascent.