Sacrifice

writer-keyboard

Silk’s Post #89 — I think there’s a point in the life of every writer when this question must be answered: what am I willing to sacrifice for my writing?

I’m at that point.

Why is this moment inevitable? Because the muse is a demanding boss. Because becoming a really good writer, and becoming a published writer (though two entirely different things) require that writing be a writer’s top priority.

Because writing takes work, and work takes time.

“Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.”   — Stephen King

“I know you’ve heard it a thousand times before. But it’s true – hard work pays off. If you want to be good, you have to practice, practice, practice. If you don’t love something, then don’t do it.”   — Ray Bradbury

“I don’t know much about creative writing programs. But they’re not telling the truth if they don’t teach, one, that writing is hard work, and, two, that you have to give up a great deal of life, your personal life, to be a writer.”   — Doris Lessing

Ah! There’s the rub.

“Writing” and “being a writer” are not the same thing. Being a writer is a calling, not a hobby. And in our age of seemingly endless possibilities, it’s difficult for us not to want to check the “all of the above” box on our menu of life choices. How else could you explain the mind boggling  statistic I cited in my last post: that over 80 percent of Americans would like to be an author?

But how many of them would put this desire above all (or at least most) others? How many would actually give up something else they desire to do – or more likely many things dear to them – to achieve that goal?

And am I one of those?

“The writer must believe that what he is doing is the most important thing in the world. And he must hold to this illusion even when he knows it is not true.”   — John Steinbeck

“I hold my inventive capacity on the stern condition that it must master my whole life, often have complete possession of me, make its own demands on me, and sometimes for months together put everything else away from me … Whoever is devoted to an Art must be content to deliver himself wholly up to it and to find his recompense in it.”   — Charles Dickens

“There’s no point in fooling with [writing] unless you have to – unless you have a need to do it … A publisher friend of mine says that most writers are not real writers, they are just people who ‘want to have written.’ Real writers are those who want to write, need to write, have to write.”   — Robert Penn Warren

Serious stuff, eh?

Maybe, like me, you’ve come to a kind of commitment watershed at some point in your writing life. In my heart of hearts, I’m a committed writer. But it’s time to admit that this is not truly reflected in my sustained commitment of time and effort. I give it all I can … without having to give up other things that are also important to me. And that’s not really enough. In fact, not nearly enough.

So.

For me, the time has come to go beyond dabbling. To put up or shut up. I’ve known for a long time it was going to come to this. If I seriously want to be a real writer, I will need to make real sacrifices to feed my passion and inhabit my craft.

And what’s the reward for such sacrifice?

The greats who have gone before us down this road have sent back these eyewitness reports to inspire us who follow them …

“Putting a book together is interesting and exhilarating. It is sufficiently difficult and complex that it engages all your intelligence. It is life at its most free.”   — Annie Dillard

“Who am I and why was I born and what is it all for? Who are these others and what have they to do with me and what have I to do with them? To answer these questions is to seek the essentials of some sort of philosophy of life. And to answer them in one way or another is the meaning of literature. Whenever a book, through the direct voice of poetry or through the voices of characters in a novel, recognizes these fundamental questions of the human heart, that book is read and lives on and on.”   — Pearl. S. Buck

“Writing is an affair of yearning for great voyages and hauling on frayed ropes.”   — Israel Shenker

“I write to find out what I’m talking about.”   — Edward Albee

“The aim, if reached or not, makes great the life;
Try to be Shakespeare, leave the rest to fate.”   — Robert Browning

 

 

16 thoughts on “Sacrifice

    • Thanks Paula! I agree — as we make plans for 5/5/5 it’s a good time to look at where writing fits in our 5 different lives and what we’re able (and happy) to commit to. I was afraid this post might be interpreted as my doubt about whether to continue my writing, when it’s really more about me kicking myself in the pants. But that’s just me — we each need to find our own way forward that works for us. No wrong answers here!

  1. You’ve tackled a difficult subject and done it with a lot of personal honesty, Silk. I’m not sure I agree that it’s a sacrifice to indulge one’s passion for writing, although of course there are choices to be made about how we will allot our time. A serious writer with a husband, family commitments and/or a career will set different time priorities than someone with fewer demands. But some of the busiest people I know are extremely successful authors.

    Our commitment to writing shouldn’t require giving up on other important things in life, or expecting others to make sacrifices to accommodate us. I believe we have to learn the art of balancing priorities. Mind you, sometimes my problem is discerning what those priorities are! 😀

    • Thanks for your thoughtful comments Carol. I hope this does stimulate writers who might read it to examine where writing really fits into their lives. It’s such a personal thing, as you say. I’m a lifelong procrastinator, yet am chronically over-optimistic about how much I can get done in a given time. Once I do make a commitment to a task, I can be obsessive about getting it done, so if I take on more commitments than I should, I kill myself trying to accomplish it all to my persnickety standards.

      Whatever people choose to spend their precious time doing needs to fit them individually — no two of us are alike. I think the important thing is to know yourself (a lifelong mission for all of us!) and realize you have choices … then make them fearlessly, eyes open. For me, it’s just time to make some more time in my life for writing, because I’m frustrating myself not getting into it deeply enough to even test my potential. Or, I have to just go with the flow and enjoy writing as one hobby of many, and adjust my expectations.

      I do think it’s valuable to re-evaluate every so often, and I’m looking forward to hearing lots of perspectives on this topic!

  2. You’ve given me a lot to think about, and I really appreciate the quotes of so many greats on this subject. Your post makes me wish this subject of sacrifice and commitment could be probed in a workshop or private group of writers meeting face-to-face. In this complex world–and I have a prejudice: where women shoulder caregiving of family members of all ages to a greater extent than men–is it healthy to elevate writing to the exclusion of other choices, for many years or decades of life?

    I had a mentor long ago who had a curious statement: “Gains restrict; losses liberate.” With everything we acquire or include in our lives, we accept restrictions, and reap the rewards. With every loss, including what we cut loose, we free ourselves up for something else.

    When I reflect on my life, there were ‘gains’, people and things I chose, that did interfere, still do, with writing, accepting putting them ahead of writing has been 100% the right thing for me to do. There were times of loss where I could have filled the opening with a commitment to writing, and I didn’t. Maybe what I’ve needed to develop is greater awareness of these openings of opportunity as times to ask, “Do I commit to writing for this time I have before me or do I choose something else?” I’ve been anything but clear-minded after many of these losses.

    Thank you for offering the topic for me to think about it. I realize that I associate the word “sacrifice” with being a victim. I’ve had to do battle with the pairing of those two. I’ve sacrificed, and continue to, for troubled and also elder members of my family. Kicking and screaming and feeling victimized, I’ve needed a long time to recognize that my sacrifices have been choices that made writing take second place, a distant second. I have accepted (at last?) that the quantity of my creative writing in particular is strung out over long periods, whereas for someone else, the stacks of pages are pillars of accomplishment. Am I any less a writer, a true writer? I don’t think so. Or is this denial?

    • Elizabeth, thanks so much for your heartfelt thoughts. This was one of my most personal posts, and it’s really about the process of introspection I’m going through right now (why now? who knows? I’ve just reached that point). I find it really interesting, and very rewarding, that this post has stimulated such thoughtful comments.

      If I’ve struck a chord, I think it may be partly due to my title. Sacrifice is a strong word, as you point out, and it has acquired many diverse and deeply personal meanings for people. For me, it was exactly the right word because I associate it with making the choices required to commit to a demanding passion (which some might experience as a calling, a necessity, even a duty). In other words, I think of sacrifice as a positive thing. You only choose to do it for important reasons – the kind of reasons that give your life real meaning.

      Other than the kinds of ultimate sacrifices associated with things like war, the things most of us sacrifice for our various reasons are related to either time or money. A younger writer starting out has to cope with the latter in a way that I’m lucky enough, in my post-career writing life, not to have to think about. But the older I get, the more precious time is. So for me, sacrificing for my writing is all about how much time I devote to it. And since time is a finite resource, that means if I want to give writing the time I think it needs (and deserves), it’s going to cut into my volunteer time, or my travelling time, or my sailing time, or my social life, or the time I share with my husband and family, or my (hard earned) time to just kick back and smell the roses.

      The good news for me is that I have good choices – which doesn’t mean they aren’t hard to make. I guess I’ve just finally come to terms with the blindingly obvious: you really can’t have it all!

    • Thanks Joe. Yes, I’m sensing a lot of resistance to that word “sacrifice” (see my reply to Elizabeth above). But I guess I think of it this way: if something is worth sacrificing something for, that defines its importance and value. I think making choices is the hardest thing human beings do – but maybe also the most powerful.

  3. You’ve hit on something really important Silk. The moment you describe, where you’re deciding how important writing is in your life, is one that everyone who wants to write gets to sooner or later. How important is writing to you? How driven are you to tell the story, whatever it is? Where is writing on your list of priorities? How essential is it to write?
    For me, writing was always on the list, but for a long time, it wasn’t at the top of the list. Family, work, even though part-time, other commitments, often bumped writing aside. It was only when I decided writing would be at the top of my list, barring things-that-must-be-dealt-with-right-now (flood in basement, dog choking, for example) that I began to get a lot done. I like to think of it not as sacrifice, but as a daily balancing of how much time I can devote to writing versus other commitments. And having a goal each day helps a lot, so many words, or pages, or hours per day. Also writing when you can – 20 minutes here, 10 there – can make a huge difference in what you get done.
    Writing is hard. It often feels like you’re getting nowhere. Going back to what you wrote yesterday and telling yourself to keep going, that it will get better, that you will find a way to close the gap between the amazing writing and story you hold in your head and the writing that actually appears on the page is never easy. But then there’s those fleeting moments when the gap vanishes and you read a sentence you’ve written, or maybe only three words, and you love them and feel they’re perfect and you know you’re doing what you want to do.

    • Thanks for your thoughts Judy – your comments really ring true for me. I’ve been in the mode you describe, where despite feeling that writing is my most important passion, I’ve let every possible distraction and demand take precedence over it. I hope I can achieve what you have … to put writing at the top of my list, rather than allow it to be thing I get to do after everything else has been looked after. Thanks for the encouragement and I wish you all success in your own writing life!

  4. I feel this pressure all the time even though I have no family constraints. I have an unshakable commitment to our blog, to developing it, to becoming a better writer, a better photographer, to reach more people, to develop books from it. In my sixties, in a way that surreptitiously crept up on me, I find I have embarked with a ferociousness on a whole new career that frequently takes precedence over everything else. I have to make myself leave it to spend time with real people as opposed to cyberpeople or photo editing. It presses and cramps on me in a way I never expected, and yet I can’t even begin to conceive of giving it up. I’m often stressed about it. I imagine the freedom of not having this in my life, and yet, again, I cannot even conceive of giving it up. It has a life of its own now, so all I can do is try to be as present with it as I possibly can, to remember to breathe, to trust, to allow instead of trying. Your post has certainly confirmed what I knew Silk – the commitment consumes you. Almost all of our family and friends simply don’t understand what I’m doing. They think it’s just a hobby, and that I shouldn’t spend so much time on the computer. There’s a sadness in this for me and yet I’ve never made it clear to them how important this is, or the goals I have. And at this point don’t want to.
    Phew! Thanks for this chance to vent a little 🙂
    Alison

    • I am SO with you on this Alison! See my replies above, especially to Judy. I’m really in awe of your commitment to your blog, your travels, your photos, your writing life. You’re a great role model and I’m hopeful I can clarify – and live – my priorities and passions as you are. Life is short, as we all know. For me writing is dessert, and I have to break down a lot of received “rules” to eat dessert first!

  5. You sure pushed the right button, Silk. It’s obvious that this ‘Sacrifice’ question concerns every single one of us writers. We wrestle with it every month, week, day and probably a good many nights as well. So many angles to consider, so many different parts of our lives to balance. I will try to develop my thoughts on this on my next blog post. It’s such a hugely important topic, in fact it over-arches everything else. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  6. Excellent discussion as usual folks! Being able to recognize in one’s self that it’s time for a break, be it an hour, a day, a weekend or something more substantive such as summer months when the kids are out of school, should be priority in anyone’s life. The talent to write never goes away if you have it. The will to write, supplies you the energy to write, if you create balance between your will and your physical well-being. Driving yourself over your physical and mental limits will eventually affect the quality of what you write, and more importantly, your relationships with others. If however, you like being a hermit and eating yesterday’s pizza for three or four months and don’t miss conversation with someone besides yourself, I say go for it!

  7. Yes, yes, yes. Sacrifice. Hard work. Daily. Focus. And then again. And again. But … I’m wondering if there’s also a deeper dig here. The process of driving oneself to find not only the voice, but the means to express that voice—isn’t that ultimately an exploration? And isn’t that exploring the most compelling role of the writer?

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