04 February 2010
You got to walk that lonesome valley
Like dying, becoming a writer is a journey you have to walk by yourself, and, as the old spiritual says, nobody else can do it for you.
Friends, relatives, and other writers can support you, critique you, encourage you, mentor you, advise you, nag you. They can pass your name along to agents and editors. They can praise your work to everyone who will listen. In the end, though, you alone walk the valley, book in hand, and discover whether it ends in failure or success.
It’s not only the dying and the writer who have a lonely path. So do those who watch on the sidelines. Remaining behind when a loved one dies or seeing a friend’s first book hit the bestseller list (or flop miserably) is a soul-searing reminder of how acutely alone each of us is in the world. We cannot selflessly take the other person’s place to save them pain; we cannot selfishly take their place to savor their joy. We are separated by a gulf so deep that no bond of love or hate can span it.
No wonder that a writer’s success creates such a wide range of responses. Friends may be proud, angry, ecstatic, or jealous, or take the writer’s achievement as a good or bad portent for their own future, or feel awkward about the new gap between them, or all of the above.
You’re probably wondering about now whether this meandering post has a point. Why, yes, it does. When we know how alone each of us is at some moments of our lives, doesn’t it make sense to help and encourage each other when we can? As J.K. Rowling proved, we writers are not in competition with each other for a limited number of book slots; good books create new readers eager for more good books. Any one of us, by being successful, can create opportunities for others.
Let’s be gentle on ourselves and other writers. We may each walk alone, but we’re in this together.