DiLeo Writes—Chapter 5: On Finding Purpose and Joy
Hello and welcome,
I started this edition of the newsletter the day after Christmas, thinking I'd have it crafted and delivered by the new year, but it's mid-January already and I'm wondering what I've accomplished in the last several weeks.
I've read several books, written a third of a novella (that I've since set aside . . .), and I've queried ten agents about my novel, Dead End.
That seems respectable enough, but it feels lacking.
This is traditionally a time of recaps and resolutions, but instead of such structured formalities, I offer an open-ended ode to finding purpose and joy.
What gives our lives purpose and joy? We could easily shrug this question off or, worse yet, get cryptic and go all Beckett- and Camusesque, declaring that our lives have no purpose or meaning because there is no purpose or meaning in anything—and joy is as irrelevant as anger or depression.
Even if that is true, we get to choose which side to embrace.
The meaning we find in our lives is a product of our beliefs, our sense of individual and social responsibility, and whatever it is that satisfies our spirit. It is a unique thing for each person.
For my purposes here, I look at it through creative endeavors—specifically, my writing.
It is easy, incredibly easy in fact, to lose the enthusiasm for creative endeavors. It is easy to lose heart, to view work produced (especially incomplete work) as proof of the futility of, in my case, writing. As mentioned above, I handwrote about sixty single-spaced pages of a book about a boy battling a monster, but my interest petered out. I've also scribbled a host of ideas that each held glimmering promise, briefly, and then faded.
Part of the problem: I was trying to write to "the market." Maybe I could craft a YA-bestseller or a Gone Girl-esque bestseller. The issue here is obvious—I was trying to force my creativity to produce something that would be a guaranteed bestseller (not just sell to a publisher but sell BIG), and this demanded I write something I had only a moderate (at most) interest in, and also fettered by imagination with the burden of Trying To Make It Big.
It is unfair and (in my case) unproductive to the imagination to demand such things. I tried to trick myself into doing the work, musing that it might be fun to dabble in these other genres, and though it worked for a while (thousands of words, in fact), my imagination caught on and shut things down.
Now, I could persist in those half-completed and barely started works, and maybe they'd turn out okay, but that misses the point: I must write the stories that energize my heart and mind, the tales that inspire me, and I must not be afraid to follow these passions.
Only by doing that, will I give my work (and to a certain degree, my life) meaning.
I cannot, and must not, judge the quality of work produced based on its reception, whether it gets me an agent or a publisher, or a slot on the bestseller list.
Years ago, author Peter Blauner (The Last Good Day; Man of the Hour) sent me this as writing advice: "Pick something you really enjoy writing about . . . because it can be a very rough ride and honestly the pleasure you take in writing is the only lasting reward. And I actually mean that."
He sent me that advice in 2003, but I must keep reminding myself of its truth.
What matters is the work, and the joy it brings me as I create it, revise it, and recraft it again and again until it is as good as I can possibly make it.
Then, maybe, an agent will take an interest and a publisher, too, and the work can be further honed and crafted into something readers might genuinely enjoy.
That is the goal, but I cannot hinge my happiness or satisfaction on that result. What matters is the effort I put into my work, not some external validation.
In a 2008 interview Joe Hill said of writing: "Don't do it because you expect to make a living; do it because it's a charge, because it fulfills you in some way. . . . just about everyone who succeeds in the make-believe business is a person who would do it even if they couldn't earn a dime at it."
That might be easy to say for someone who does make a living at it, but I believe he's also correct. If external success is something I want, I must ignore that desire and concrete on the work itself. I must write the stories I want to write because they demand to be written. I must write them out of love, and without any expectation of some sort of return save for what the work itself gives me while working on it.
It will restore my soul. Every day.
Then, perhaps, there will be agents and publishers and readers. Or not.
But I will have the work. Always.
My father-in-law believes wholeheartedly that we need only ask the universe for what we want, that we must believe and visualize those wants, and the universe will conspire to bring them to fruition. This idea most notably peaked with the success of The Secret, but it isn't simply about belief. It's about the discipline, the persistence, and the joy it takes to make those beliefs reality.
I believe there is magic in the world, and I believe that dreams can come true, but we can't wait around to be blessed: we must put in the time, we must do the work, and we must never saddle our enterprises with unfair expectations.
The world is fickle. Maybe it will like us and maybe it won't.
Doesn't matter. What matters is the joy the work itself brings.
Here, let Elizabeth Gilbert explain in her TED Talk.
Joy and magical, elf-like " geniuses"—that's right.
I think she's onto something . . .
Since it is a new year, here are my resolutions:
1. Consciously work on my writing craft. (Through both reading and writing.)
2. Write what I want, and write for joy.
3. Read more books, both for pleasure and to study the craft. (My Goodreads 2018 Reading challenge is set at 40 books, but I hope to read more than that.)
4. Improve my teaching. Always, always, always—make whatever we do in class worth everyone's time.
5. Stretch daily (getting old . . .)
6. Eat (fairly) well and exercise (at least twice a week).
7. Embrace joy.
Recommended Movies, Books, and Music:
Stranger Things 2 (Netflix)
If you've read my newsletters before, this recommendation is completely unsurprising. Watch it. Love it.
I absolutely love David Fincher's Zodiac, and this is in the same vein, only longer, but just as engaging, unsettling, and captivating.
Cats, cats, and more cats, and the life they live in Istanbul.
My ideal superhero film: dark, bloody, and emotionally resonant.
X-Files (on Fox)
Okay, so the first two episodes were lame 24 imitations, but I hold out hope they will return to the monster-of-the-week episodes that made the original series so good.
Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose
An in-depth analysis of good writing, from the words to the sentences to the paragraphs to the full works.
Going to Meet the Man by James Baldwin
How did I never read any of Baldwin's work? It's brilliant. Read it, and see for yourself.
The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
One of those books I knew but had never read. I'd denied myself a genuine treat.
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Alexie Sherman
Read in one day. A wonderfully engaging style that is delightfully humorous—until the emotional wallops shock and humble you. Excellent.
Strange Weather by Joe Hill
I wrote about this in the last newsletter, but the book is available now and I highly recommend it. Hill always delivers what he calls "shivery delights," and a coolness factor no other author can match—and on top of that, the stories are always engaging.
Safe Haven by Ruth B.
My wife was singing "Lost Boy," and I thought it was such a beautiful song, conveying loss, loneliness, hope, and the power of imagination (and literary allusions). It was an extra treat to discover the rest of the album is just as good.
Meal delivery services have become a big thing, and I can appreciate why: Home Chef has great, low-carb options that make me feel like a "real" chef as I prepare the dishes, and the meals are consistently flavorful and satisfying.
It's been quite cold recently, but fear not: my cats have found a way to stay warm:
All the best.
Be well, be happy, and be kind,