A wonderful man who was once my parish priest, Fr. Gordon Walker, lived by the motto, “You’ve got to have an attitude of gratitude.” That’s something I’ve always struggled with maintaining from day to day, but I’m growing more and more convinced it is absolutely key—not only to the spiritual life, but to life as a writer.
I haven’t actually tried this, but I’m willing to bet if you Google “writing life” or some similar phrase, you’ll come up with about 99 hits that focus on the difficulties of said life for every one that focuses on the positives. You’ll hear about how lonely life is as a writer, how emotionally wrenching, how thankless to slave away day after day with only the remotest hope of publication. And as for financial success, you can forget about that right now. Unless you’re Stephen King or J. K. Rowling, you’re doomed to work for pennies for the rest of your life. You’ll be warned that unless you have a vocation to rival Mother Teresa’s, you’d best stay away.
And yes, writing can be lonely, wrenching, and thankless. It is most certainly hard work. And I would agree writing is not for the faint of heart and not for anyone who can imagine a life without it.
People finish novels—good ones—every day. People get published, even traditionally, every day. People get advance checks and royalty checks every day. Writers are out there making a respectable living every single day.
What’s to stop you being one of them?
Possibly your attitude.
I firmly believe we can affect the events of our lives—even those that appear to be beyond our control—through our attitude. If you are convinced you will never be published, never make a living as a writer, there’s an excellent chance that you won’t. You won’t be motivated to put in the excruciatingly long and difficult apprenticeship required of any artist. You won’t see the point of building a network of writing and reading friends. You won’t project the kind of positive attitude that makes people want to be around you, want to help you, and ultimately want to represent or publish you. Eventually, even your muse will shun you out of sheer disgust.
You’ll be digging your own literary grave.
But if you approach your writing career with gratitude for every opportunity, with hope and conviction that you can and will succeed (however you define success), you will put in those hours. You will pursue those friends, you will give back to the writing community, you will create an atmosphere of positivity around you that will draw people and make them want to help you, represent you, publish you, and ultimately, buy and read your books. Your muse will curl up on your desk and purr like a contented cat, and ideas will abound. Every little gain will lead to more gains, whether artistic, financial, or in the simple satisfaction of living the life you love.
It all starts with gratitude.
Why not try an experiment? Begin each day by listing five things you’re thankful for. If you’re struggling, you can start with things like air and water and life itself. Your family and friends. The roof over your head, the clothes on your back, the coffee in your mug.
Then move on to being thankful for the gift and the drive within you that pushes you to write. The opportunity—even if you’ve had to wrest it violently out of adverse circumstances—to sit down and write. The people who support you, if you have some. The experiences of your life, good and bad, that have given you material for writing and made you the person you are, with your own unique vision. The writers who have gone before you and inspired you. The tools you have for writing, whether paper and pen or computer or charcoal on birch bark. The time. The ideas. The words.
Once you start being thankful, it can get kind of addictive. And what’s really addictive is starting each day, each writing session, with a feeling of hope, of excitement, of joy. It will spill over onto your page, and your writing will take on a new luster. You’ll be on your way to becoming the best writer you can be.
And who knows? Once upon a time, Stephen King and J. K. Rowling were struggling in poverty and obscurity just like everybody else. The wheel of fame and fortune could spin your way just as it did for them. You could be one of the lucky ones.
But for now, you are one of the blessed ones. One of those anointed to create. Go forth and be thankful for it.