I read Writing Past Dark: Envy, Fear, Distraction, and Other Dilemmas in the Writer’s Life, by Bonnie Friedman. Though written in the early 1990’s, it gives timeless guidance. I highly recommend it for any writer who is serious about the craft and achieving success.
That said, I’m going to contradict myself. This book isn’t for everyone who calls himself or herself a writer. Of course, the only way to know if it’s for you is to read it and see.
Rather than summarize the book, I’ll briefly share what meant the most to me. If what follows seems short, keep in mind something my friend Gerald told me more than once. He quoted someone who said we’re fortunate if we can get one thing or idea from a book.
Writing Past Dark is definitely not a how-to book. Friedman deals with matters of the heart and head. It’s not gushy sentimentalism, nor is it clinical mumbo jumbo. I appreciate her vulnerability and insightfulness.
One of the things she writes about is how we deal with envy of other writers. I admit, I’m envious of the vivid, poignant writing on display in Writing Past Dark.
Friedman says successful writers are those who keep writing and believe in the value of what they write.
Concerning envy of other writers, she shares observations from a teacher of an Eastern religion which I find instructive.
If we really loved what we’re doing–writing, or whatever the occupation–we wouldn’t be concerned about whether or not we’re famous.
Our education system is rotten because it teaches us to love success, not what we’re doing. The result has become more important than the action.
I’m reminded of advice from Charlie Cunningham, my first boss when I worked in radio. He told me I wasn’t going to get much direct appreciation or applause for what I did. He said, “Be satisfied with your own work.”
That piece of advice has kept me going many times through the years. It’s not about being smug or never striving for improvement. Instead, it has to do with acknowledging and appreciating one’s abilities.
It’s about having self confidence. The more experience you get, the more self confidence you’ll have. Build on that to keep moving forward.
The best advice from Friedman’s book is, Write what you care about.
The second best piece of advice is, Write for yourself, but don’t forget the world.
That’s the writer’s paradox.