Last Friday I blogged about what a failure I was and how lackluster book sales had disappointed me straight into depression. He sent me the following.
Thanks, Edmond. Your words mean a lot to me, and I’ll read them again and again when I need to feel not so alone. Being a writer… it’s a wonderful death, isn’t it?
Let It Kill You
Theo’s recent sorrowful post, regarding a book release, touched me. He bled his heart onto the electronic page. What a vulnerable thing to write. And how much courage must Theo have to stand in metaphorical nudity and openly cry, feeling all the hurts. You know who does that? A Writer.
I nodded in empathy with many of his points, feeling the grief he eloquently expressed. I know what it’s like to feel disappointment your books don’t sell. I know what it’s like to devote a year of life to writing a novel and wonder—with crossed-finger, little-kid hope—if it will be well received, only to find it’s kinda um…unnoticed. I also share his shortcomings, such as “not great at marketing.” I try. But it’s uncomfortable and hard. It’s killing me inside.
Okay, maybe not killing me. I’m a writer. I get dramatic.
But this hurts.
This hurt feeling makes me question myself and the commitment I make to being a writer.
Over a year ago, a dark period of doubting came to a climax. Would I choose to write anything beyond the six books series I’d started? I thought about quitting. (Not before finishing the six—I promised those. I would have to deliver.) I made it to the other side of these doubts and decided I want to keep writing, despite the heartaches. I’m in.
But my point is, I understand where Theo is coming from. I’ve had some good cries, too. Choosing to put yourself out there as a writer is hard. Beautiful sometimes. And hard.
Someone passed along a quote to inspire me.
“Find what you love and let it kill you.”
The quote is often attributed to the poet Charles Bukowski, and yet the website Quote Investigator attributes it to a country songwriter named Kinky Friedman. Must be frustrating to be Kinky Friedman, and have the internet attribute your magic words to someone else. I bet he was frustrated as a writer, too.
Find what you love and let it kill you.
That’s what I thought when I read Theo’s blog.
It’s killing him.
He gave his heart over to this love, and it’s killing him. His anguish. His brokenheartedness. When trying to nap, he didn’t even get to fall asleep, a much needed break from feeling his bruised heart. The way this writer life kills you isn’t dramatic—it’s not in grand gestures. It’s never making an Amazon “top anything” list. It’s watching friends’ books get translated into Italian, Korean, and Finnish because there’s such a demand for these books in those languages. But not yours. Mass audiences are not clamoring for yours.
I am genuinely glad for my friends’ success. They deserve it. I want to hear about it. I don’t want author friends to tiptoe around me and, with mournful eyes, say, “Your turn is coming.” Fuck that. I’ve been blessed with amazing readers and incredible reviews, so I’m gonna focus on that. I am blessed. I feel like my books find the right people…but, yes, there’s a part of me that wants to be as popular as Stephen King.
Am I ridiculous to hope for that?
Does recognizing it’s ridiculous make the hurt go away?
While reading his blog, I was surprised to see my own name mentioned. I was surprised to see the context, too. Theo wrote:
I’m upset right now, but not at you. I’m upset I don’t fit in a neat little niche, that I can’t be happy and cheery all the time (like Edmond Manning, for example; how the fuck does he do it?).
Me? Happy and cheery?
I was surprised by those words.
I’m not happy and cheery all the time.
Then I realized, oh yeah. I am happy and cheery most of the time. I love my life. There are things I’d like to change, yes, and still, I like my life quite a bit.
It hurts, Theo, finding what you love and letting it kill you.
The killing quote, as it’s attributed to Charles Bukowski, goes something like this.
“My dear, Find what you love and let it kill you. Let it drain you of your all. Let it cling onto your back and weigh you down into eventual nothingness. Let it kill you and let it devour your remains. For all things will kill you, both slowly and fastly, but it’s much better to be killed by a lover.”
Is it better to be killed by a lover?
I’m not convinced.
There’s a special heartache unique to those who try their best and somehow don’t achieve the gold ring. Did I not try hard enough? Am I just a substandard writer? It’s these shortcomings of mine that I couldn’t quite overcome, isn’t it? Would I make a better painter, but I somehow misunderstood my gifts and invested in a failing literary career?
It’s nice when people say, “No, no, no, no…that’s not it at all. You’re gifted!” But that’s not the point. Praise and adoration don’t quell these fears. These questions are like ghosts that reveal themselves at 1:37 a.m. when you can’t sleep because you’re plotting a book. They rise up from grave thoughts when you moan quietly to yourself and feel weak.
I don’t have a solution.
I don’t have any words of inspiration, really.
Theo, good luck with your decision.
Whatever way this coin lands, Theo, you will always—always—be able to say to the world (and more importantly, yourself), “I was an artist. It was difficult, and I poured all my love into it. I chose love. I devoted myself to what I loved.”
No one can take that away, regardless of your sales.