Friday, August 19, 2011

The Art of Gratitude

JoyGratitude is an art form. You have to work hard at it every day or else, just like any acquired skill, you'll forget how to do it. It's also like a relationship in that sense. It's easy to be flush with gratitude when times are good; it's when times are rough that you have to remind yourself how lucky you are.

What does gratitude have to do with writing? A lot. No, I'm not talking about an author's gratitude for their fans. That's important, of course, but you have to lay the groundwork first. If you're a successful writer, then kudos to you. Gratitude for fans becomes a much more meaningful notion at that point, so you're ahead of me there. But if you're like me, someone who's just hitting their stride with their writing, then things are still hazy on the fans front. So leave that aside for the moment.

And as for gratitude you may day-dream about for your as-yet-unrealized literary success (from time to time, I imagine myself being interviewed by Charlie Rose about my most recent literary smash success, so I'm as guilty as anyone), let's ignore that for the moment, too. Because there's no guarantee that all of your hard work will pay off in the form of critical accolades, and even if it does, that doesn't always translate into lots of money.

So forget about success and failure for a moment. Are you still with me? I know it's hard to stop thinking about success because we're programmed in this society with the need to achieve, achieve, achieve. That's fine for some people - for some, material success is like water to a fish. But for those of us who believe there's more to life, let me offer one simple piece of advice:

Be grateful for your interest in writing.

I'm careful to use the word "interest" here instead of "love" or "passion", because, in my opinion, at least in as much as they apply to writing, I think the words "love" and "passion" are over-used. What is it that Jack Nicholson once said about acting? If it's fun you're doing it wrong? That's my opinion on writing.

Not that it should be torture. There are moments when your mind seems to be hooked into some story-making machine, and those moments, for me, are divine. But they don't happen all that often, and in my experience, there are long stretches where I have to force myself to write when I really don't feel like it.

So forget about "love" and "passion". Just be grateful that the universe imbued you with an interest in the written word. Not that it gave you some pass to love words unconditionally (it's your job as a writer to control words, not to let them run free - to be too in love with words can be a problem), but be happy that it said, "All right, I think I've made enough Wall Street traders and tax attorneys and defense lobbyists and televangelists...what we need now are some writers!" And then you were born.

This is something to be extremely grateful for. You get to tell people's stories. Maybe not actual people's stories (unless you write biographies), but the stories of people who represent all of us in some way. This is a priviledge, even if you never get paid one penny to do so. You get to fill your free time with playing make-believe. Isn't that awesome?

And who knows if you're any good? Honestly, the word "good" as it's used in regards to writing is, again, useless. Being grateful for being a good writer is like being grateful for having "good" hair. If you have curly hair and you happen to be the kind of person who likes curly hair, then it's a boon; if you have curly hair but want straight hair, then it's a curse. And even if you like it, some days it just poofs out and you can't do anything with it. I'm fully aware that I'm a guy saying this, but whatever: I have curly hair and sometimes it's cool and sometimes I want to burn it off.

Ahem. My point here is that you have nothing to do, ultimately, with the curliness of your hair. It is what it is. It's how you approach it that matters.

Listen, some people will like what you write and some will not. There's no way to ever tell if you're "GOOD". But what makes a lot of sense is to be grateful that you have an interest in it (even if it's just a hobby for you, it's still important work you're doing).

And I'm not saying be grateful for what you're not; you shouldn't say, "Well, at least I'm not a window washer" (nothing against window washers). Just be happy that you have such a human-centric, empathy-building interest. If you can be grateful for this, you will always be successful.


  1. This is awesome. I totally love that analogy. Especially since my curly hair is beginning to thin out. My wife doesn't like bald, she thinks it's bad, but several girls I work with say I should shave my head, it looks good. (shaved it once and wife wouldn't speak to me.)

  2. I learned a lot from this article, great help for me, thank you!

  3. Good, I'm glad you got something out of it. Thanks for your comment!

  4. Thanks, man. All I have to say about that is "happy wife, happy life". I believe in that. Maybe you could try talking her into it before you obliterate your hair? Good luck, I know that hair can be a delicate subject sometimes.