Hoping Against Hope
For many of us, writing can feel like a hopeless activity. You're working on what you hope will be a good piece, and suddenly it falls apart and can't be salvaged. You write a piece you hope is good, but you send it out continually for months—maybe even years—and no one accepts it for publication. You get something accepted for publication and hope people will read it, but you never really know if anyone does.
If you're working with the traditional sense of what hope means, experiences such as these can be debilitating. Enough of them can even drive you to stop writing altogether—I know; I gave up writing for such reasons several times in my life. But, many years ago, I came across a definition of hope by Czech writer and politician Vaclav Havel that changed my perspective. Here is how Havel (who, by the way, faced difficulties in life far beyond what most of us have ever faced, including imprisonment) came to understand hope:
"Hope is a state of mind, not of the world. Hope, in this deep and powerful sense, is not the same as joy that things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously heading for success, but rather an ability to work for something because it is good… Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out."
That definition of hope gives me goose bumps every time I read it, because it turns on its head the meaning I carried with me for so much of my life, that so often left me feeling hopeless. As I'd seen it, one always had to hope for something, a tangible result, so every time that something didn't materialize, hope faded a bit more—until, finally, it was extinguished entirely, at least for a time. With writing, I always managed somehow to relight it, but that doesn't happen with everyone. Some people just give up writing for good because it's not "obviously heading for success."
But what if we operate according to Havel's definition of hope? Then it's a matter of attitude, not results. Can we believe that writing itself is a "good" thing? Can we enjoy it for its own sake? Can we believe it's worth doing, in and of itself, even if our only audience is ourselves and a handful of family members, friends, and fellow writers? If we can do these things, then there is hope, then we can write because it is something that "makes sense" to do, something we can "work for…because it is good."
I can also tell you from personal experience that doubts about one's self as a writer almost never go away, even with successful writers. I worked with a few of them when I was an editor at Houghton Mifflin, and they were inevitably disappointed by how brief the experience of success was, even when they'd been published successfully. Most writers short of the bestseller list get a few months of attention, at best, and then they are forgotten again. My point being that even when writers achieve the success that Havel refers to, they are soon back in the same position as any writer, working on something they hope will be successful and wondering if it will be published and read.
So, I'll tell you what I told those Houghton Mifflin authors: Write because you love writing, the process of delving into your own conscious and subconscious mind to create something with words; the trying, the failing, the trying again, the satisfaction of getting it right, once in a while. Write because, as Havel says, "it is good" and it "makes sense, regardless of how it turns out." That is where the deep, lasting satisfaction lies, that is where true hope lives.
7/31/2016 01:24:39 pm
Thank you, Ed. It's a subject close to my heart.
7/2/2022 03:35:38 am
Nice post thhanks for sharing
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Lawrence Kessenich has written in virtually every genre, was a professional editor at Houghton Mifflin in Boston for 10 years, and