“No one forces you to ply the trade you follow. But if you do choose it, then acquit yourself to the best of your ability. And above all, you should not think of writing as a way of earning your living. If you do, your work will smell of poverty. It will be colored by your weakness and be as thin as your hunger. There are other trades which you can take up… Our opinion of you will not be any poorer, and since you will be sparing us acres of boredom, we may even think the better of you.” – Essay on Novels, The Marquis de Sade
On the face of it, that statement seems rather bleak, doesn’t it? Don’t all of us writers dream of being able to write full time, rather than fitting it in around our already busy schedules? That is certainly my ultimate goal. However, that’s not quite what the Marquis is getting at…
Writing has its peaks and valleys, soaring heights and bottomless pits. If you’ve been writing for a while, you know what that feels like. Sometimes the Muse chatters, the words flow and you scribble furiously to get it all down or tap violently on the keyboard as the story unfurls before you. It’s your best work. It’s brilliant, in fact. You read and re-read, carefully editing and correcting your errors. Then you deliver it into the world, whether it be to your blog, as a self published book on Amazon or within a query letter to an agent. You eagerly await a response.
You get a few likes on your blog, maybe some vague praise in the comments. “Nice work.” “Great post.” Your book languishes, sales are weak, nonexistent even. The agents are silent, or worse, dismissive… “Thank you, but your work isn’t a good fit for me. Good luck in your journey…”
It takes some spine and some determination to keep your head above water in the flood tide that is the vast ocean of writing and publishing these days.
Here is where the Marquis’ advice applies. Even if the Marquis and his notorious behavior puts you off, in many he ways his unwavering determination to follow his nature holds for us a lesson. (For some biographical details on de Sade, see The Passionate Philosopher, by Mr Cake). Maintain your artistic vision and integrity. Do not pander to popular trends among current best selling books. The world does not need another 50 Shades of anything, for example. (The irony of using that as an example in a post quoting the father of sadism is not lost on me.) Don’t lose sight of the reasons you began to write in the first place. No one should choose to write or compose solely to make a living. Rather, you must write out of love. You must write because the words would burn you from the inside if you didn’t let them out. That is the stuff we want to read.
Nevertheless, we all want to be appreciated, have readers enjoy what we write. But it is a rare thing to achieve overnight success. Yet we have all come to expect instant gratification. With so much information at our fingertips, we are confused and discouraged if we can’t have ‘it’ right this very moment. Aspiring authors need to have a long view. To continue the ‘head above water’ analogy – it’s like swimming the English Channel rather than doing a lap in a pool. There will be times when it feels like those distant shores are no closer. You may stop and tread water for a while to catch your breath. You need strong steady strokes to keep going. Slowly but surely progress is made. And if you’re lucky, you have lots of friends and family in the support boat to cheer you on.
Don’t let your desire for validation derail your dreams. Whatever you write, for whomever you write, on whatever medium you write, remember that you love to write. And that alone makes it worth it.