There are times of uncertainty and doubt in every writer’s life. Times when all the hard work, the frustrations, the efforts, and the isolation inherent to executing the craft seem to narrow to one question in the writer’s mind: Is it worth it?
We give up our hobbies, or limit our time investment in them, to focus more intently on developing our skills. We lower our standards in areas of our lives that we once had adhered to fastidiously. Now, we consider it far more noble to ignore chores in our homes to study, so that we might get past that psychic distance challenge we’re facing in Chapter Three of our current Manuscript-in-Progress. By necessity, we isolate ourselves from those whose company we enjoy–during deadlines, even from our families. We’re confident that our dedication will propel us to success. Our investment is worth it. We will reach our goals.
And then something traumatic happens (our publisher ceases operations, our line at the house folds, our editor leaves) and we’re tossed into a pit of despair where investment doubts return with unrelenting vengeance to assault us with that confrontational: Is it worth it?
We debate, mull, and consider. Discuss our uncertainties with our families, our peers, our mentors. We weigh and measure and, somehow, we adjust to our new circumstance, then focus on alternatives, on solutions, on new paths to explore. We endure. Our creative selves survive. And we again convince ourselves that we are spending our time wisely–and exactly as we must spend it. We are writers. Writing is worth the physical effort, the emotional investment, the sacrifices it demands. We go on, pursuing our dreams and working toward our goals.
As if being rewarded for our persistence, some small success (which seems large to us, due to our need) comes our way and we feel vindicated. The investment was wise, the struggle worth everything it took, and more. Confirmation smells so sweet and brings us such contentment.
Until the next time we’re dumped into the pit and doubt assaults us.
Then we suffer a focus shift because Is it worth it? now has company. A new question lands on the scene to torment us: When will these doubts stop?
Obviously, I can’t answer for everyone. But I can answer for me. My doubts ended on January 8, 1995 at 12:50 p.m. CST: the moment a beautiful writer named Suzanna died.
Suzanna exemplified my vision of a heroine. She was clever and courageous and beautiful, inside and out. Her battle with death was a long, hard one that she fought admirably. She inspired smiles, and she radiated strength.
In excruciating pain, two days before her death, Suzanna reached out to friends, saying she needed their strength. These friends were a group of writers on GEnie’s Romance Exchange. I was one of them.
Most people are uncomfortable with death, and shun it. Writers are not immune to this discomfort, yet we rallied and wrote individual letters to Suzanna. I was very worried about writing this letter. Suzanna had been such a tower of strength throughout her illness. A person who reached out to help others, but rarely asked for anything herself. Now, she desperately needed support, and I didn’t want to fail her. When I sat down at my desk, I knew I would be composing the most important writing of my life, and I wasn’t at all sure I was up to the challenge.
I prayed for the right words, for the ability to link them cohesively and clearly, to say precisely what needed saying in the right tone and style to give Suzanna what she hoped to find on the page—strength. I prayed for competence, for the skill to convey a message of sincere support, but not of pity. Suzanna was far too remarkable a person to pity. And I remember being comforted because I wasn’t alone. I knew all my GEnie sisters were composing their letters, suffering these same fears and doubts, praying these same prayers.
The decade’s worth of studies and struggles, of time and effort, the wisdom gleaned from my many mistakes, my every trial—all merged inside me, and I wrote the letter. I did not use the word heal nor death—the time was near, we both knew it, and I would never insult Suzanna’s intelligence or the courage she’d displayed by pretending otherwise. Yet I somehow was blessed with not being reduced to falling back on time worn clichés. I reminded Suzanna of all the kindnesses she’d shown others. Told her that she had made a difference. And I wished her peace.
Along with those of my GEnie sisters, my letter was read via phone to Suzanna. Within moments, I plunged into the pit of doubt. Had I said the right things? Said them the right way? Was the tone comforting? Would the strength she said she needed be there for her in what I’d written on the page? Again, I feared, but I wasn’t alone. I knew that all my writing sisters were suffering these same doubts about their letters.
The next afternoon, I got that most dreaded call. In her husband’s arms, at 12:50 p.m. Central Standard Time, Suzanna had passed away peacefully.
My doubt died.
While I’ll never know for certain if my letter had any part in bringing about Suzanna’s peaceful passing, I do know that writers rallied and showered her with heartfelt support when she needed it most. And I know that she knew her life had value, that she mattered. I know because I told her. Many of us told her. There’s a great deal of comfort in that.
And if I should never write another word, then every moment I’ve spent studying, struggling, and sacrificing to develop my skills still has been time well spent.
In the length of one letter, I received indisputable proof that, yes, it is all worth it.
The day Suzanna died peacefully.