Why You Don't Have To Win The Writing Game

The first time I interviewed the author Richard Bach, he described an evening he spent with Kurt Vonnegut, Truman Capote, and Leon Uris. "It was so disappointing," he said. "Here I was sitting with these three great minds, and all they wanted to talk about was agents and advances and sales."

In the other writers' defense, Bach had recently published Jonathan Livingston Seagull, which was in the process of setting sales records. Moreover, though I am sure he enjoyed the fruits of that success, no writer I've interviewed has ever shown less interest in the business side of this business. For instance, when he sold Jonathan Livingston Seagull, the editor who bought it had to convince him to accept an advance. He didn't care; he just wanted people to be able to read it. "If I don't give you an advance, they won't market it," she explained. "Fine," he said. "Give me whatever you want."

I think of Bach's story of his disappointing evening with famous writers sometimes as I've watched Donald Trump wage his bizarre campaign for president. I understand that all politicians are saddled with a problematic relationship to honesty. I don't know if it would be possible to get elected and say exactly what you believe all the time. It's like trying to write a story that would please readers of science fiction, romance, and literary fiction. That said, I can't remember a politician who seemed so transparently willing to say whatever needs to be said to win. I have no real idea what Trump actually believes. For all I know, he doesn't want to build a wall and his best friend is a Muslim.

It's easy to judge Trump, especially if you share my political views. But judgment assumes we have nothing in common with the one we're judging, and everyone I know has something in common with Trump. Trump is above all a survivor. Winning is his way of surviving. I would like to say I've never been preoccupied with my own survival, that I've never descended into grisly conversations about sales and advances and marketing, that I've never viewed other writers as my competition, that I've never been jealous, or looked upon writing as a game I must win and win and win and win. Unfortunately, I have found myself swimming for my life in this shallow end of the writing pool from time to time.

But I cannot begin to write until I forget about the fearful and uninspiring business of survival. To write I have to forget about winning and losing, success and failure, and even dying and living. The creative flow to which we all have equal access doesn't care about survival because it knows no end. It just keeps flowing and flowing and flowing the way the earth keeps turning and turning and turning. To listen to that flow, I must speak its language, which is the language of life itself.

Whatever happens this November, that flow will keep flowing. Yes, I'll be unhappy if things turn out differently than I hope, but I doubt the entire world will instantly go up in flames. To fear even that outcome is to join those chanting the song of doom against which we must build walls, as if we could ever stem the flow of life, as if life is a game to be won or lost.

You can learn more about William at williamkenower.com.