I smell like lilacs.
The reason I smell like lilacs is that, as you may know, I’ve been trying out new perfumes. At first I thought the right one for me might be one of the classic perfumes, a Chanel or Dior, for example. But you know, they smell too complicated, too – honestly, too old. They don’t smell modern to me. What I want is something clean, fresh.
Today I discovered that the company that makes my favorite candles, Pacifica, also makes perfumes. So I tried the French Lilac, and you know, it actually smells like lilacs? Which most lilac perfumes don’t. But the scent took me back to walking among the lilacs at the Arnold Arboretum. I hope I can find time to visit the lilacs next weekend. My favorite Pacifica scent, Persian Rose, was not available, so I’ll have to order that online. But this blog post is not actually about perfume. It’s about a different kind of joy.
Earlier today, I read Nick Mamatas’ Booklife blog post “Against Professionalism,” and it reminded me of something I’ve been noticing among certain writers. It’s a joylessness. They tend to be writers who are starting out, trying to get their work published. They encourage each other, tell each other that they need to accept rejection, keep writing, keep submitting. Keep keeping on.
And you know, they’re right. Sort of.
Because I think that writing is not about accepting rejection. It’s about embracing failure. What’s the difference? One is passive, the other is active. Most writers are given a certain model of writing: finish a story, send it out, if it comes back then send it elsewhere. Same with a novel. But the writers I know personally have had much more complicated paths. I know my own path has been much more complicated. Our paths, and I’m including friends of mine here, have included starting literary movements, online magazines, reading series. Proposing and editing anthologies. Putting on events of various sorts. And writing not just stories, not just novels, but poems, articles. Doing whatever they thought would be interesting, fun.
What you want, in your writing career, is a creative flowering. You want to do things not simply because they’re the things you’re supposed to do or that everyone does, or simply because they make money (although I will never, ever tell you not to make money, since we all need to keep ourselves in stockings and fans – and perfume). You want to do things because you think they’ll be fun and interesting to do. Because you think it would be fabulous if someone did them, but it doesn’t look as though anyone else will.
You want to create beautiful, fascinating things.
And you know what? If you do that, you will have a writing career. Not necessarily an easy one, but honestly, I can’t think of a single friend of mine who’s had an easy writing career. There’s no such thing. People will come to you. Even people who are editors and agents. They will ask you what you are writing, whether you would send them something. I know, you don’t believe me. But I tell you, it’s true. It doesn’t mean you won’t get rejected, because even a story that is commissioned can be rejected. But that’s all right, that’s part of embracing failure, right? Embracing failure means creating beautiful, fascinating things – knowing that some of them won’t work. Because when you’re being that creative, that inventive, failure is inevitable. But the successes are all the more wonderful.
Last night, although I’d been so sick during the day, I proofed my Folkroots column for the 100th issue of Realms of Fantasy. That column will be called “Fairies and Fairylands,” and I can’t wait for you to see it. I can’t wait for you to see the entire issue. It’s absolutely gorgeous!
Today, I talked to my editor for several hours about final revisions on another project. No, I’m not going to tell you anything about it. You’ll just have to wait! But the suspense won’t last much longer.
And then I printed out the stories for the workshop I’ll be leading at Wiscon.
That’s what my life looks like. There’s a lot to it, and sometimes it’s overwhelming. But it can also be incredibly joyful, because I know that I’m creating beautiful things, things that will interest and perhaps even inspire. So I would say to writers who are starting out – don’t wait for rejection or acceptance. Go and create, in any way you can. Know that because you’re creative, you’re powerful. Your career is in your hands.
Earlier today, I sat down in front of my computer to write the blog post on “Reading Protocols.” To my left, I had my small notebook, with a list of the blog posts I want to write in it.
To my right, I had a Persian Rose candle. Even when it’s not lit, it perfumes the entire room. When it’s lit, the perfume is deeper, stronger.
I was finding my joy.
This is a reaffirmation of what I’ve been doing this morning. Finding joy in images, ideas, words. Just before I read your post, I was imagining what the ghost of a cherubim might be like.
Thank you. 🙂
You tell ’em, Dora. It’s so odd and disheartening to encounter so many writers looking to turn writing into the worst kind of job—the job where clean fingernails counts triple, and where the boss has to give special permission to take any form of initiative.
Thank you, I needed to read this. In my case, I’ve been spending time worrying about how much I will have done before my personal timer goes off instead of just going on and enjoying doing it.
Have you checked out Black Phoenix Alchemy Labs? In my experience, their scents smell exactly as described. I’d love to see them do scents based upon some of your poems. The one about the girl in the winter garden?
I wrote something in Drawing Out The Dragons about how if you’re enduring anything, you’re doing it wrong. Harlan Ellison used to comment that people who wanted to be writers seemed to think it also involved going around with the back of one hand nailed to their foreheads.
I much prefer the Ray Bradbury school of thought, that this is the absolute best job in the world, and my reward for behaving in a professional manner is that I get to keep having an absolute blast doing whatever it is that I’m doing.
A beautiful post, Dora. And so true.
Thank you so much for this beautiful post, it was very heartwarming and uplifting to read. Sometimes writing really can seem all “business” – your post has helped to remind me to inject the creativity, spontaneity and fun into what I am doing.