"To appreciate beauty; to give of one's self, to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to have played and laughed with enthusiasm and sung with exultation; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived -- that is to have succeeded." ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
Last week I sent an email off to a nonfiction writer whose work I greatly admire. She writes the histories of people who defied odds to create something truly remarkable in the world. I wanted to interview her for The Journal of Cultural Conversation. I was delighted when she emailed me immediately to say she'd love to be featured. I fired off a set of questions to her and waited for her response.
As I read her answers, I found myself nodding my head in full agreement with everything she said. Until I got to the final question: "What advice do you have for aspiring writers?" Her response: "Honestly, we're in such a difficult time for non-fiction writers because the Internet has blown up the longtime economic models, I'm not sure how newcomers are supposed to make a living. I started off in newspapers and then briefly free-lanced for magazines. What newspapers are hiring today and what's the future of magazines? The on-line sites pay nothing or tiny amounts. Ebooks may well undermine the publishing model that makes sizable advances possible. So, I truly don't know how young writers will develop paying careers. And I find that sad." Ouch.
I sat back at my desk and let out a long, slow sigh. I can't possibly publish that answer with the interview. And then I considered why I was so resistant to that answer. After all, this writer sent me this very honest answer, and I always want honesty from people I interview. I don't want candy-coated metaphors. Tell me what you think and how you feel. She did, and now I'm upset. Not exactly fair of me, is it?
Let's consider this from her point of view - she's a very established writer. She'd put out tomes that are the definitive works of the people she's written about. She's in the industry of publishing and she's frustrated by the changes she sees occurring. We're all entitled to feel frustrated from time to time. Maybe she was in a bad mood when she got my email. Maybe she was hungry - I get cranky when I'm hungry, too.
In this conversation with myself, I had to ask the question, "why am I doing this? All this writing? What am I trying to do here?" Recently a friend of mine questioned my motive about my writing. Out of concern, the friend thinks I might be wasting my time with all this work. At first this comment really hurt me, particularly because I have always been so encouraging of this friend. With this question before me, an answer quickly and easily surfaced, much to my surprise.
I'm not trying to make a living as a writer. I make a good living as a product developer, and I enjoy that work immensely. But it's not my life. Writing is helping me build a life I'm happy with and proud of. It's helping me to connect with interesting, passionate, inspiring people. I learn so much through these connections. And most of all, my writing is helping others. I get emails, texts, phone calls, and online comments on a variety of sources about how much my posts have helped them. It's humbling. With writing, I'm doing some good in the world, and that's all I'm really after.
The author I interviewed may be absolutely right - perhaps the publishing / writing paradigm has shifted forever due to technological advances. Maybe a career like hers, the way that she built it, just isn't going to be possible going forward. And that's just fine with me. Change arrives on our doorstep every moment, and there's no way to shut it out. We can't stop the world from transforming. What we can do, and what I try to do everyday, is show up in the world, tell my stories with honesty and grace, with the hope that some of them resonate with another soul. That's really all I ever need in this life - to reach out, connect, and feel like I'm part of the global conversation.