Mega advice column, plus an announcement
This weekly newsletter is going every-other-weekly
Hi, everyone—I’m back from my four-week newsletter break with a reluctant realization: Sending this newsletter every Monday and making serious progress on my new book may be more than I can realistically manage going forward. So, starting today, at least for the next few months, I’ll be putting out the newsletter every other Monday. And instead of doing the advice column on the last Monday of every month, I’ll be doing it occasionally, whenever I receive a really meaty creative dilemma that I feel moved to answer at length.
To clear the decks for this new publishing schedule, I’ve decided to use today’s newsletter to answer all of the advice-column queries that have piled up in my inbox over the summer. So please enjoy this end-of-summer mega advice column—and please feel free to let me know what you think of my experiment in publishing less frequently (I’m guessing some of you may actually prefer receiving fewer emails?) by replying to this email or leaving a comment below.
Thanks, and see you in two weeks!
Does the World Need Another Writer?
I love the activity of writing itself, and the outcomes, to me at least, are quite satisfying. But as much as I enjoy writing for myself, I still want to give to the world what so many other authors have given to me. Since I don’t have the audience for this myself, I have to submit my writing somewhere—writing competitions, calls for papers, publishers, you name it. And submitting my work entails it being compared with the other submissions.
I understand that comparing artwork is often like comparing apples and eggs—it is not necessarily about quality. The apple tree has no business competing with the chicken. But compete they do, and not everybody can win—this is not a question of quality, but of quantity. Now I wonder—what if there are simply too many good writers out there?
I remember reading somewhere that the world does not need another writer, and I think it might be true. My question now is: When is it worth the fight? —Paula in Helsinki
I suppose it’s true that the world does not “need” another writer. Lord knows there are already enough of us vying for readers’ limited attention. And yet—how grateful I am that my favorite writers have decided to stick with it anyway! The world may not need their work, but this individual reader has found it tremendously entertaining, inspiring, and comforting.
As you submit your work, and experience the inevitable rejection that comes with that, and start to wonder if it’s worth keeping it up when there are so many other writers out there, I’d recommend that you try to remember the connection that an individual reader may experience with your work. Of course, you may never know when it happens. But I do think there’s a certain feeling you get as a writer, when you’ve finally captured something on the page and it just feels . . . right. When that happens, I think you can trust that someone out there will feel a spark of recognition, that feeling of: yes, life is just like this. James Baldwin once talked about this feeling:
This has happened to every one of us, I’m sure. You read something which you thought only happened to you, and you discovered it happened 100 years ago to Dostoevsky. This is a very great liberation for the suffering, struggling person, who always thinks he is alone. That’s why art is important.
So, yeah, I think it’s worth the fight. I mean, what else are you going to do? If you’re thinking it may be more useful to be a pediatrician or a social worker or a climate scientist or something more straightforwardly oriented toward more straightforward societal ills—well, yes, sure. But the world needs artists too.
I’m writing to ask what you have learned in your research about “multipotentialites” or “multi-hyphenates,” folks who have many interests/abilities and the desire to pursue all of them. I am a dancer, visual artist and writer who makes a living as a dance/creative arts therapist. I have always scoffed at the “jack of all trades, master of none” expression, but as I get into my thirties, I am beginning to understand the limits of time, attention, and energy. Do you think one must pour everything into one craft in order to truly excel in a craft? Have you come across examples of people who have been masters of several crafts? What about multipotentialites who also lead fairly balanced lives? (i.e. not drug-addled, dysfunctional/negligent parents, partners, etc…) —Rachel in Walla Walla, Washington
First of all: I’m impressed that you’ve managed to carve out a niche for yourself as a dance/creative-arts therapist, how cool. Honestly, it sounds to me like you’ve already found a way to make your own “multipotentialities” cohere in a single practice. And I think maybe that’s the way to think of your situation in general—not as a bunch of disparate crafts but as a single craft that incorporates various disciplines.