There Is Only the Work

In carrying on with our recent theme of finding value in the doing (and on that, here too), consider the well known writer’s coping mechanism (or happy delusion, willful illusion, nighttime solace, etc. etc. and take your pick) of “famous when dead”. It has of course happened, and the historical examples are sufficiently numerous that it’s easy for anyone to think of a few off the top of their heads. A book’s journey through the world, once it has made those first tentative post-publishing steps, is an unpredictable affair that is so thoroughly entangled with many multiple threads of the historical tapestry that not even chaos theorists or macro-statisticians have much hope of making a reasonable forecast. What happens is what happens, and what that might turn out to be is anyone’s guess. This means either that, depending on one’s half-full or half-empty inclinations, there is a great deal of room for hope or very little – but that dichotomy doesn’t allow for a middle ground. Foolish optimist or hard-nosed realist? Disappointingly shattered or pleasantly surprised? If it’s “famous when dead” then naturally none of the above: a gravestone is a hard border for information on readership or distribution (freebies and/or sales) to bypass. What is the writer to do?

Legacy. Since we create works with at least some potential to last (be it in digital form, paper, or otherwise) the temptation is always there to concentrate overmuch on what’s been left behind, on what one has given to (burdened?) the world. Putting attention there is a focus on results, uncontrollable results, and it is also to equate personal worth with third party appreciation. Again, what happens is what happens, and if a piece of writing’s readership cannot be guessed at then how could the reactions of other people possibly be? As artists we all know this, yet there remains that voice in the back of the head, that refrain of “What if” or “This time” or “Famous when dead” – but at least famous, at least acknowledged, at least read. Loved? What is this drive that possesses us, this yearning to play the toddler to the world’s caring mama and cry out, “Look at me! See what I’m doing! What I’ve done!” Undeniably the desire is there, and even when faced, even when you think you’ve finally got it beat, it can haunt like little else. In the meantime what remains?

The work – there is only the work, there has only ever been the work, there can only ever be the work. Writing must be its own reward, and not the final product, not even the feel of the last typed page and closing edits. If there is little real or long-term comfort to be found in reception (and even a very good reception cannot last forever nor be uniform in its accolades) then there is equally little to be had in the pleasure one gets from glancing at one’s own books on the shelf. They are there and you made them, yes, but so what? What now? Ahh, there it is, we have at last hit the nail on the head: What now, indeed. Now is for what one does next, now is for the shape of one’s resolve, now is for the strength of one’s grit. A writer writes, that is how a writer engages the world in which she is sunk, and there can be no two bones about it. If joy cannot be found in the act then absolutely anything resultant will be even more hollow than what has already been outlined in the above. Meaningless and empty, nowhere near being satisfactory, and quite possibly a gigantic waste of whatever time was invested. And that is our one real commodity, for however we choose to spend our time is how we actively make ourselves. It must be the doing, the process, the highs and lows, the losses and triumphs that occur along the way and only during the way, not the failures or successes that strike the finished object. All we have is what we do, all else is beyond our control, beyond our means, beyond our persons. Hope is not even relevant here, wishing has no relation to anything. The work is its own reward not in the sense of what is held in the hands nor even in the gratification of a job thought to be well executed, but only in that execution. Writing – one keystroke after another, one swipe of the pen to the next. Therein lies a writer’s happiness, therein lies a writer’s life.


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One Comment

  1. Paul j Rogers
    Posted April 18, 2018 at 9:48 am | Permalink

    And to that I’d add don’t expect to enjoy reading it once it’s finished. A decade later, maybe…

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