When the Writing Life Isn’t About Talent, Discipline, or Stubbornness

The act of risking and enduring failure is celebrated at length these days. I don’t know if this is a new phenomenon, perhaps arising out of Silicon Valley startup culture, or if it’s an old philosophy that’s become newly relevant. Certainly humans have had to face their fears again and again, and fear of failure is one of the most significant.

Author Melissa Yancy (@melyancy), in her essay The Upside of Failure, shines a new light on what failure brings to the writing life. Her exploration isn’t the usual reflection on rejection, but rather a contemplation of what it means to keep writing when you don’t or can’t launch into it full-time, and it’s a day job that pays the bills. She writes:

… over the last decade, I’d seen many of my friends stop writing fiction, or stop writing altogether. It wasn’t from lack of talent, and more surprisingly, it wasn’t about discipline, either. The writers I knew who had taken their writing most seriously—working part-time, freelancing, and making significant financial sacrifice to spend more time on their work—were the ones who most easily gave it up when a stable career opportunity came around.

For years, when all else failed, I would think of something I’d heard Ron Carlson say: the writer goes to the stubborn. If I didn’t feel disciplined, or inspired, or talented, I knew I could be that: I could be stubborn. But when I talked to friends who had been able to give it up, I realized it was no longer stubbornness that kept me coming back.

Read Yancy’s entire essay in the latest Glimmer Train bulletin.

Also this month at Glimmer Train:


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Posted in Creativity + Inspiration.

Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in digital media strategy for authors and publishers. She is the publisher of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors, and was named Publishing Commentator of the Year by Digital Book World in 2019.

In addition to being a columnist for Publishers Weekly, Jane is a professor with The Great Courses, which released her 24-lecture series, How to Publish Your Book. Her book for creative writers, The Business of Being a Writer (University of Chicago Press), received a starred review from Library Journal.

Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as BookExpo America, Digital Book World, and the AWP Conference, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.

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