Several years ago, my Uncle Nick went to see the great American author Richard Ford give a talk at a bookstore.
After the reading, a middle-aged man in the audience stood up during question and answer, and said this; “Mr. Ford, you and I have something in common. Just like you, I have been writing short stories and novels my entire life. You and I are about the same age, from the same background, and we write about the same themes.
The only difference is that you have become a celebrated great man of letters, and I despite decades of effort have still never been published. This is heartbreaking to me. I have dedicated my life to writing, but with no reward. My spirit has been crushed by all the rejection and disappointment. I wonder if you have any advice for me, but please, sir, whatever you do, don’t just dismissively tell me to persevere, because that’s the only thing people ever tell me to do, and hearing that only makes things worse.”
According to my uncle, Richard Ford said in reply, “Sir, I am so sorry for your disappointment. And please believe me; I would never insult you by telling you to simply persevere. I can’t even imagine how discouraging that would be for you to hear after all these years of rejection. In fact, I will tell you something else, something that may surprise you. I’m going to tell you that you need to give up.
You need to quit writing.” The audience froze. What the hell kind of encouragement was this?
But Richard Ford went on: “I say this to you only because clearly this work is bringing you no pleasure and no satisfaction. Our time on earth short and it should be enjoyed. I give you permission to leave this dream behind and go find something else to do with your life. Go find something to do that you love, something that brings you reward and peace. Go see the world, take up new hobbies, spend time with your family and friends, fall in love, RELAX.
But don’t write anymore, because it seems to be killing you.”
There was a long silence, and then Mr. Ford smiled kindly, and added, almost as an afterthought: “However, I will say this. If you should happen to discover, after a few years away from writing, that there is nothing you have found in the world that takes the place of writing in your life nothing that elevates you or inspires you or moves you to the same degree that writing did well, then, sir, I’m terribly afraid you will have no choice but to return to your labors…and to persevere.”