A couple of weeks ago I got a call from a doctor friend of mine whose oldest son is in college, and intent on becoming a writer someday. My friend asked if I would meet with his son, (let's call him David), and talk about what it takes to be a writer full-time.
So, I met with this wonderfully mature, bright, and sweet-natured young man in an overly crowded Starbucks and wasted no time getting to the heart of things. "David," I said, "name for me your three favorite writers. They can be published or unpublished, just tell me whose stuff you love to read."
His three included Hemingway, Sedaris, and an author I was unfamiliar with. I wrote all three names down on a sheet of paper, then turned it back to him and with a sweet smile asked, "Why didn't you list yourself in your top three?"
"Uh...." He had to think for a second. "Because...because...I'm not there yet..."
"Exactly," I said to him. "But the 'there' that you're talking about isn't the there that I'm talking about. You haven't yet fallen in love with your own work. That's the 'there' that you're lacking. But here's the tricky part David; until you do fall in love with your own stories, and are willing to put yourself in your top three favorite writers, you won't be able to ask anyone else to either. And that's the belief in yourself that you'll need to break into publishing. If you don't have that belief, you won't survive long enough to make it."
Truthfully my question to him was a trick question - but it highlights the golden rule I live by. I love my own writing. I honestly do. Am I number one on my own list? No. That number one spot changes constantly, (right now Kathryn Stockett holds the title), but I will readily admit that I am always in my top three. I love what I write - and to be honest with you, if I felt any differently, I'd NEVER keep on writing.
Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not walking around with a big fat head thinking I'm the greatest thing to happen to literature - I FULLY understand my limitations. Loving my work has nothing to do with technique, or literary quality - it has everything to do with characters and plot lines that appeal to me, first, last, and always. I write the books that entertain ME. If I weren't entertained, tickled, and delighted with each and every book I churn out...I would have quit this gig long ago.
The truth is that I've never in all my life worked like a dog for so many consecutive years. Writing full time is crazy hard work, and if I didn't love the stories I spin...I'd have stopped with my third book and gone back to my life in a cubicle where basically all I had to do was show up, fill out a few spreadsheets, and take my weekends and evenings off.
I think books are like children in a way; you sweat through the labor of those 325 pages, give birth to that first draft, nurture them for a time to shape them into the best stories they can be, then send them out into the world and brace yourself for the folks who want to give you helpful "feedback" about how to dress your child the next time. ;)
All the while the one thing that's required is that you love what you're writing. That you always hold yourself up in that top three or four of your all time favs - even when it seems no one else wants to. It's all you have at the end of the day - that love for your story will keep the furnace burning through the loooooooooong days and nights of producing the best book you can.
Here's another honest admission - I have written exactly the books I've wanted to write. From beginning to end, they've been the books that I've wanted to write, and knowing that they are exactly as intended has helped me face those days of terrible struggle when a book I'm working on is giving me a really hard time. And it's also been true that the books that have given me the greatest difficulty are also the books I've loved the most.
In the end, all I can say is this; that love shines through. Other kindred spirits will see and connect with it and it will allow them to fall in love too.