The Writer’s Journey
There is a rather famous quote often attributed to Winston Churchill: “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” That pretty well sums it up, doesn’t it? But it’s unlikely the wartime prime minister of the United Kingdom (and winner of the 1953 Nobel Prize in Literature) ever uttered that sentence. There is no proof he said it, but that doesn’t stop folks from claiming he did. Which actually makes it all the more appropriate, in this age of “alternative facts.” The point is, keep going. Continue the journey, no matter how frustrated, frightened, hopeless, or angry you may be feeling.
In the lead-up to the publication of his first novel, Lincoln in the Bardo, George Saunders and I talked a lot about the writer’s journey—from the journey of self-discovery during one’s ongoing development as a writer to the rather more perilous journey we’ve traveled as writers and artists in this country during the past few months. His take on the latter? “It’s a tremendous literary mission to ask, ‘Can we reimagine our country?’ It’s going to take some legwork, and it’s going to take some curiosity, which is in short supply these days,” he says. “But I think for writers it’s actually an exciting time. I don’t think I’ve ever felt in my life that writing was a more essential task.”
For some writers the journey leads far from home, as discussed in many of the articles in “Near and Far: The Spring 2017 Guide to Writers Retreats,” while for others the journey takes them deeper within themselves, as Roberta Grant discovered during Pico Iyer’s “Writing Through the Dark: A Workshop on Words and Silences” at the Tassajara Zen Mountain Center in California.
In “The Necessity of Failure: An Examination of the Writing Life,” Kevin Wilson, whose latest novel is Perfect Little World, acknowledges the uncertainty in any writer’s journey: “Writing is not a finite thing that ends when you turn thirty or forty or fifty or sixty. With any luck, if you care about writing, it’s a lifetime pursuit. And, yes, it would be better to publish your first novel when you’re forty, as opposed to when you’re ninety, but the truth is, there is no single moment that defines us as writers. We write. Sometimes it’s good. Most times it’s not.” As Winston Churchill probably did not say, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.”
Or, as our forty-fourth president most definitely did say: “The best way to not feel hopeless is to get up and do something.” No matter what, keep writing.