I tweeted this yesterday, but the drawback of Twitter, of course, is chopping things up into tiny bits. This quote needs to be seen and savored in its entirety. It’s from the legendary dance diva, Martha Graham in a 1973 interview. She was interviewed countless times throughout a long and brilliant career, of course, but one of the biggest things she’s ever said that stuck with me was about struggling as an artist. She told the Christian Science Monitor, `You are unique and so am I. If you do not fulfill that uniqueness, it is lost to the world. No matter how uncomfortable it may be, you must pay your debts to the life that has been permitted you. And to do it with as much courage as possible.’
It’s the COURAGE that stood out to me.
It’s odd how some people seem to equate being a writer with suffering in some vague, indefinable way, as if the suffering itself, the self-deprecation and the, “Oh, I make no money with it,” is part of the gig. The attitude some people bring to the work really has nothing to do with the writing, the desire to write, or why we do so specifically for young adults. I distrust a writer who gets too involved with The Struggle (TM), this idea that The Arts and The Life are some sort of all-caps calling to which they’re supposed to sacrifice everything. Part of me constantly chafes at myself for indecision and nonsense, while the other asks, “Did you choose this life, or not?”
“There is no place for arrogance in the arts, but neither is there room for doubt or a perpetual need for affirmation. If you come to me with doubts about a particular move in a piece, or if you come to me and ask if what you’ve written has truth and power in it, these are doubts I can handle and respect. But if you come to me and moan about whether or not you really have a place in the dance or the theatre or in film, I’ll be the first person to pack your bags and walk you to the door. You are either admitting that you lack the talent and the will, or you are just looking for some easy attention. I don’t have time for that. The world doesn’t have time for that. Believe in your worth and work with a will so that others will see it. That’s how it is done; that’s how it was always done.”
Emphasis mine, of course.
I don’t know the origin of the phrase, “Work hard in silence, let your success be your noise,” but this quote pulls that to mind. Oh, the self pity, the “look-at-me” posting of daily word count (I know that for some people, this is a necessary part of keeping themselves accountable, but not only is it really painful sometimes for other people who write very much more slowly, but daily word count is really… significant of nothing), the sort of whingeing of worrying aloud we do, when we see someone else “stealing” our plot or idea – all of this is unnecessary. Terry Pratchett always said that there are stories simply “sleeting” through the Universe. There’s enough for all. There is room for all. There is art for all. It only requires that we reach out and embrace it. Believing in our work, our worth, our will. Which is just kind of huge.
“The world seethes with ideas the way a week-old carcass seethes with maggots, and they are individually just about as valuable. Standing atop the carcass shouting, “The eighteenth maggot on the left belongs to MEEEEE!” is well… bless your heart, as they say around here. And even if both you and I, creative carrion birds that we are, grab for the same maggot, we’d get very different results.
…so, stories are like dead whales. One falls from the sky every now and again, and we all jump on it.”
– Ursula Vernon, on why writers really shouldn’t worry about story ideas being “taken” because there are stories out there, forever, like there are whales washing up on beaches forever, which will nourish all of us bottom-feeder writers forever, amen. Really, it’s a charming analogy, just as charming as whalefall, which is whales washing up dead on beaches… Okay, so NOT charming, but whatever. Circle of life. Just like ideas, and writing, and all of this work. Circle of life.
So, the next time I find myself in the presence of undue “suffering” in my chosen profession, I’m going to imagine Ms. Martha plié-ing across the floor to escort that person OUT of the field. (At least out of my hearing and field of vision, if nothing else.) Gracefully, of course. Because nobody has time for the transparent bids for sympathy in a job we took onto our own shoulders. Believe in your work and your worth and go on.