You’re Entitled To The Work

advice, publishing

I got my first book agent when I was 25.

What followed was a few years of the publishing industry stringing me along, keeping me on the hook with the hope that my novel would be published if I would revise. It ended in wasted years of my life that could have been better spent elsewhere. I wish I hadn’t spent so long revising one book because editors and agent told me if I did it would be published. I wish I hadn’t spent so long living in poverty. Because that did something to me, that imprinted on me in a way I can’t shake. I wish that hadn’t been acceptable to me. I wish that for myself as a child. Most of all — I wish I could let this go.

I tend to lapse into self-pity.

When I see others whom I perceive have had it easier than me, my habit is to tell myself the story of that injustice over and over, rehearse it. Going “see?” is an excuse for why I’m not doing better, evidence that injustice exists in the world, or … I don’t know what it is. A bruise I can’t stop touching. My fear is that by constantly being on the look-out for these stories, feeling them so keenly and obsessing about what they mean for me and my life —

I create this. My behavior conforms to my expectations. I am so keenly sensitive to this that I subtly reproduce it. That’s the working theory anyhow.

“But why has is it taken me so much longer than so many other people to succeed?” whines the childish, self-pitying voice.

I quiet that voice by reminding myself of a mantra I read August Wilson posted above his desk. I find this mantra comforting and remind myself of it often, because no matter how hard this life might feel to be — I get to spend my life writing. I create works of art. I keep my mind loose and uninhibited because I like it that way. Because the work likes it that way. I have work that gives my life meaning and that is in itself meaningful. And all I have to do to earn the joy I get from doing it is to do it.

What August Wilson posted above his desk is a Buddhist mantra —

You’re entitled to the work, not the reward.

  • david Gould

    The work is the reward. I think.

  • True. Work is Worship.

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  • Andrea

    I gasped at this photo, my beloved favorite author who has transcended my times and places. Talk about someone who had it hard. Even sitting and writing in flat and gnatty Georgia seems a hardship to me (my apologies to Milledgeville). Joolie, I respect your diligence and your tenacity and I hear your voice and can see you are where you should be– It takes major guts. I have long wanted to write as well, but just as in many things, I get to precipices and shy away from that edge. I admire free falls. So while you wonder at your hardships, I wonder at your gutsyness. Hat doffed.

  • juliebush

    Andrea,
    As you know I love her too. Georgia, Catholic, dark. What’s not to like?
    I’ve been thinking a lot about what you said a while back, and I’m convinced that you have to just get excited about something and then commit. It doesn’t take all that much time — if you could do half a page of something, anything, a day — eventually it would get you somewhere. What matters more is summoning the emotional and psychic energy, the focus and direction to come up with stories and move forward with the best one.
    Maybe I’ll write a post about how to nourish your creative life — because I know what it’s like to live in circumstances where that feels difficult. I don’t know where you’re at right now, I just know you’ve got a lot on your plate.
    But just a little to start, every day. In any direction. That’s all it takes.
    Love, JB

  • Matt MacLennan

    Just catching up on your posts now. Loved this. Thanks.

    • You’re too kind Matt. Thank you so much for spreading the word!
      X J

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