I once read research shows six months after an event, large or small, positive, or negative, a person is generally about as happy as they were before the event occurred. That would suggest that six months after winning a million dollars in a lottery or after going through a divorce, my overall happiness would be about the same as it was before either event. Although I’ve never won a million dollars, I did once win five thousand. My level of happiness (define the word happiness as you see fit) was no greater or lesser after a week. I’ve also been divorced, and although it was painful to accept, I admit after six months, I was pretty much back to my old curmudgeonly self.
My younger son played high school tennis. He was a decent player who made the varsity team three years. I was forever urging him to practice more in order to be a better player. He often said he wanted to be better. One day he announced, “Why should I try if I’m never going to be a professional tennis player?” I was somewhat dumbfounded by his question. I gave some half well thought through answer about tennis being fun, his good friends, that it could be a lifelong sport, and he might feel a genuine sense of accomplishment. To the best of my knowledge, he has never played another match after his high school graduation.
Now that you’ve waded through those first two paragraphs, I’ll get to my point. You don’t have to be a rocket surgeon to know life is made up of successes, large and small, and of failures, large and small. I have a writing friend who has queried her writing efforts to agents for years. She acknowledges she has sent out 500–700 query letters to agents. I could never in five lifetimes follow her lead. I’m not that patient, and my ego-strength is not strong enough to accept that much rejection. The kinder word is declined. As in, “Your poem was delightful, but we have declined its publication in next month’s edition. Please know we appreciate your efforts.” I admire my friend’s tenacity, but it’s not for me.
On a far lessor scale, I have submitted 34 short stories and poems for publication in various magazines and books. To date, two have been accepted. Even with my limited math skills, I know that is roughly a 6% acceptance rate. If that was my baseball batting average, I might get a job sweeping up sunflower seed shells in the visitor’s dugout at Yankee Stadium. If your interest runs more towards the academic side, my grade would be somewhere between a F— and a F—-. Yet I have strutted like a peacock (my apology for the lame cliché) over those two accepted submissions. My less than 6% success is plenty to keep me submitting more.
It seems to me that we need to keep our victories and losses in some reasonable perspective. If I were a major league baseball player with a lifetime batting average of .300, I’d be considered a good hitter. With a 30% hitting success rate, I might be nominated for the Hall of Fame. In music, very few people can name any song other than Louie Louie recorded by The Kingsmen. Yet that one hit record has lasted for nearly six decades. Not a bad one-hit wonder.
So I pose the question – Why do we write? Yes, this is about writing. But it is no different from why do we play tennis, record dirty lyrics in a rock-and-roll song or play tiddlywinks? It is a rhetorical question. We all have our own personal reasons why we do many things, and mostly, they are all valid.
Tomorrow, in a writing group, we will discuss publishing something we’ve written. Although it will be something of a how-to session, I think it should also be something of a why-to discussion. I don’t need to hear everyone’s personal reasons, but what I hope is that people consider their “why” as much as their “how.” It requires a lot of energy, expense, time, and frustration to complete the process of publishing (traditional or self-publishing.) Once answered, I wish nothing but the best for my writing friends.
I find joy in the effort, in the writing, in the work to get it ready for publishing and certainly holding the final published story, poem or book in my hands. I also like the money. On the 15th. of this month, I received a royalty payment of $26.31for the previous three months’ sales. A princely sum to not ignore.
So now back to the beginning. My level of happiness is most likely to remain consistent no matter if I write or publish. My son is now well into his adult years and I doubt he spends much time saying, “what if I’d tried harder to be a better tennis player?” It’s just not the way life works. So my self-advice is to keep enjoying the process, accept the successes, large or small, and accept the failures with equanimity. We are not all going to be the next Stephen King, Roger Federer, or Adele. But we can find some happiness in the efforts of writing a short story, hitting a tennis ball against a wall, or trying to see if Louie Louie was really as naughty as we all thought it was.
“We are all failures – at least the best of us are.” J. M. Barrie.
Denni’s Wise Words
“When I can’t jump up on the bed by myself, I call my dad and he lifts me on the escalator. You have to keep trying, or you need to whine.”