In 1985, the great editor Ted Solotaroff wrote an essay in which he mused about why most of the talented young writers he had known had disappeared, vanished from the literary landscape. The essay, called “Writing in the Cold: The First Ten Years”, found its way into the hands of nearly every young writer I knew at the time. A bracing news bulletin, a source of intense discussion, a cautionary tale, Solotaroff wrote that the main quality separating those writers who persevere and those who fade away isn’t necessarily talent, but rather, something he called endurability.
Last week, I published an essay for the Los Angeles Times in which I revisit Solotaroff’s 1985 essay, and take a look at where we stand today. What does it mean to endure as a writer in 2010? Read it here.
Of course, there are many different ways in which writers are called upon to endure. One needs this quality of endurability in the face of creative blocks; or emotional distress; or in the face of a steady stream of rejection, or criticism, or just plain lack of interest. The only answer I have ever found in the face of all this is a steady, unwavering relationship to the work. As Annie Dillard writes: “A work in progress quickly becomes feral. It reverts to a wild state overnight. It is barely domesticated, a mustang on which you one day fasted a halter, but which now you cannot catch. It is a lion you cage in your study. As the work grows, it gets harder to control; it is a lion growing in strength. You must visit every day and reassert your mastery over it. If you skip a day, you are, quite rightly, afraid to open the door to its room. You enter its room with bravura, holding a chair at the thing and shouting, ‘Simba!'”
It takes a lot to be a lion tamer: bravery, courage, quick instincts, a blind–perhaps idiotic–take -no-prisoners belief in one’s own power. But more than anything, this: the ability to endure.