Michael Cunningham says, “I’m so much happier thinking of myself less as some kind of aspiring great artist and more as one of the people who carved the gargoyles in the face of the cathedral—hidden away.”
In 1998, Michael Cunningham wrote a novel called The Hours. Praise for the novel immediately began to pour in. Cunningham was called one of the most gifted writer’s of his generation. The novel was “masterful,” “artful and sincere,” “exquisitely written,” yada yada yada. The novel won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction and the PEN / Faulkner Award.
The truth is, Cunningham was miserable. “Where can I go from here but down?” he told Charlie Rose. It sounds similar to Elizabeth Gilbert’s experience.
Cunningham eventually found what every artist must find, that it was enough to simply craft an offering. The carving was enough. Gargoyles were enough. He didn’t need to be a genius. He was fine being a craftsman.
Is your daily writing enough for you? Are the hours you spend in your chair bent over a keyboard, bringing new scenes to life on the page doing it for you? Are they bringing you joy or peace or at least, if it’s not too much to ask, some masochistic pleasure?
If not, perhaps it’s time to do one of two things:
- Quit. If writing makes you miserable and fame will make you miserable too, then what are you doing this for? I know it’s not the money.
- Figure out a way to enjoy it. If you must write, then find some way to take pleasure in it. Perhaps you need to write relationally, to see your work as a gift to those you care most about.
Either way, don’t write so people will think you’re important. It’s not worth it.
I’m doing something new today, and I’m a little nervous about it. I think it’s the right thing to do, though.
I’m turning off comments for this post.
Instead of posting your writing here, I want you to spend some time meditating on why you write. Think about it for at least fifteen minutes. You can journal or doodle or write yourself a letter or stare at a wall. But meditate on these questions:
Do I write out of a need to prove to others that I am clever, creative, or even a genius?
How can I write like the craftsman who carves a gargoyle into the face of a cathedral? How can I offer my sweat and my skill to make the world just a little more beautiful?
May your writing be a gift, an offering. May you make the whole world more beautiful with your words.