Alright, this is a weird post for me.
I’ve been feeling a little demoralized of late with writing stuff, for a variety of reasons, some logical, some the result of me comparing myself to others who are just in a very different place in their careers — which, by the way, makes no sense. Cannot recommend. Do not compare yourself to other people, friends. It will not help you.
Writing is demoralizing as a career, which is well documented. I didn’t come up with this observation, this is just the price of playing the game. But I have been wondering lately about why that is. Or rather, about what role being demoralized by rejections and reviews and all that fuss actually has in suppressing your creativity, in making it harder to finish projects. I’ve discussed on this blog imposter syndrome and the inevitability of failure but what about the inevitability of success? What about the delusion that you need to keep going in this profession?
What about the idea, counterintuitive as it seems, that you have to believe in that delusion in order to succeed? That you have to believe in your soul that you will write something that connects with others, that matters; or, perhaps even stranger, believe that the thing you love fundamentally has meaning regardless of if anyone reads it. That you have to do the work out of a kind of love that will look nonsensical to others, and that you must know this, and that you must do it anyway.
There’s a term in our society called the glass ceiling, and it’s used to refer to the invisible barriers that keep women and BIPOC people from achieving success in their respective fields. People often refer to “shattering the glass ceiling” when a person from these groups is successful — for example, when she becomes a CEO, because apparently becoming a CEO is the measure of success in our society. Whatever, you’ve heard it and you’re familiar with it, so you’ll forgive me if I borrow the metaphor and apply it elsewhere.
Publishing is full of invisible barriers, and the biggest one is the probability of success, the likelihood that you will even be seen. No matter how skilled you are, so much of a publishing career is determined by being in the right place at the right time, in the right room with the right people, being what people are even looking for. That’s luck, folks, or privilege, or a bit of both as they are really two sides of the same coin. And I call this out specifically as a relatively privileged person. The odds get longer the less affluence, name recognition, and cultural capital you have.
But what if you never looked at the odds? What if you decided the ceiling wasn’t there? What if you Han Solo’d this whole business no matter how much of a scruffy nerf herder you are?
What if what it takes to break through is hitting the gas and hurtling full speed at that wall? What if that is the cost of shattering?
Cervantes said, “To surrender dreams — this may be madness. Too much sanity may be madness — and maddest of all: to see life as it is, and not as it should be!”
I think the people who are successful in this business are the ones who keep throwing themselves upwards, again and again, believing each time that, this time, that invisible barrier will vanish. Believing, perhaps, that there is no ceiling at all.