categories: Cocktail Hour
Writers are sensitive. If they weren’t they wouldn’t be writers.
I mean the good kind of sensitive here, not sensitive/touchy but sensitive/aware of certain currents that most people aren’t. The trouble is that in most people the good kind and bad kind of sensitive are all mixed up. And the reason that is trouble is that most writers, with very few exceptions, will stop writing unless they learn to be tough as well as sensitive. Or as Hawthorne put it:
It is requisite for the ideal artist to possess a force of character that seems hardly compatible with its delicacy; he must keep faith in himself while the incredulous world assails him with its utter disbelief; he must stand up against mankind and be his own sole disciple, both as respects his genius and the objects to which it is directed.
Which is a long way of saying that writers need to learn how to take a punch.
What kind of punch? Lots of kinds it turns out. The sleeper punch (years of non-publication), the belly punch (first rejections), the series of rabbit punches (workshop responses), the blow to the head (close to publication but rejection from an editor one has grown close to), the wild hooks (bad review), the battering punches of post-publication (worries about sales, attention, general failure), and the knockout blow (the doors of publication feeling like they have closed shut forever).
It may be that people in other professions endure similar beatings. I don’t know; I didn’t choose another profession. But I do know that how we respond to these blows determines, for all but the very luckiest writers, what I will call, without overstatement I think, our fate. And it’s more complicated than the fact that to keep writing we need to keep going. Toughness isn’t only endurance. It is enduring in a way that we believe in, “as respects his genius”. One thing I have noticed in myself and others is the temptation of moving, in a kind of Darwinian adaptation, toward writing that we know will be accepted. “Accepted” can mean being praised in a workshop or getting published or many other things. Which is fine if that is also the writing that you feel you should be doing. Not so fine if it comes out of cowardly retreat in the hope of approbation.
So that’s toughness too. A kind of complicated, sensitive toughness. The question is: how to endure, in one’s own particular way, in the face of the incredulous world? And to that question we all come up with our own answers.
P.S. I guess there is a kind of irony in my offering this Bad Advice a couple of days after I responded defensively to a critic. But maybe that’s Bad Advice for another day:
The counter punch.