Never is the Best Time to Give Up


Growing up, I was convinced that there was a curse, condemning men in my family to accidental deaths before the age of 40 (it had held true for generations). While bargaining with God for extra years,  I didn’t want to be greedy.  My literary idol, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, had died at 61. That would give me time to make my mark on the world, and seemed eons away. Alright then...61.

Having survived suicidal urges and heavy drinking in my late teens; a two pack a day cigarette habit and a chronic illness in my 20s; and major surgery and life upheaval in my 30s, I came roaring up to 40 with fire in my eyes, and damned if I didn’t cruise straight on through.

Which was brilliant, since my writing career was just gathering steam.  I had just published a couple of award-nominated stories and gotten into some cool anthologies, in the pages with some of my literary heroes. I was publishing and editing TransVersions, teaching a prestigious creative writing course and being invited as a guest to conventions.  I felt like I was right on course.

At which point, the wheels started coming off.

Nothing went the way I hoped or planned. I poured my creative energies into dead end projects, while floundering in both my personal and professional lives.

In and Out of the Writing Game

Coming out of my tail spin with something to prove,  I gave up all my creative ambitions and set out demonstrate that I could be a self-sufficient business person if I set my mind to it. And it even seemed to be working for awhile. But ultimately, it only convinced me that I should have stuck to writing.

So as I approached the auspicious age of 61, I picked the pen back up and took up this path again. A few of my peers had achieved significant success and I figured I would simply have to catch up.  Ha!
 
Suffice it to say, it’s been much harder than I expected. One of the downsides of these rose coloured glasses I was borne with, is that I can be blind to things I don’t want to see. While several of my friends in the writing community have indeed honed their craft and gone onto celebrated careers, most of the others have come up against the cold reality that even for the very talented, success can be fickle, elusive, and short-lived.

Many of the writers I had been toiling beside, have long since given up or moved into related fields or died.  Some are carrying on, content with simply having the opportunity to write and find a few friends and fans who like to read what they have written.  A few hold onto their day jobs while continuing to professionally publish books that meet with some acclaim and provide the most meagre imaginable income streams.

Many of these writers, like me, are still part of the literary scene because, like me, they know that this is what they are best at. They are as good, for the most part, as writers who have enjoyed much more popular success. Some of them are arguably better than 95 per cent of the writers who are more popular.

Top Tools for Success

Talent is important, but perseverance and a good work ethic are the two most important attributes for having a solid writing career. The only way to make a million dollars in this business  as a fiction writer is to catch the zeitgeist – which requires being in tune with the world. The antenna for getting in tune involves placement of some solid gold horseshoes up your ass.

Many writers with talent “fail,” but if you persist, you at least optimize your chances of being in the right place at the right time, with the right kind of net when that grail-like zeitgeist does come drifting past.

I’m 65, and still here!  My health may be “meh,” but  I’m wiser than many, my skills are honed, and my ambition is undiminished. The world’s still here. People are still reading. And if they weren’t, the story might even work better read aloud. It’s never too late to dream or too dark to aspire.

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Comments

  1. Dale, you should check out a book called The Happiness Curve, by Jonathan Rauch. He makes a compelling case that our forties and fifties are the pits, but after that it gets better. I can certainly testify that I'm enjoying the writing life a lot more now. And I have stopped fretting about the ways some others define Success.

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