‘And see ye not that braid braid road,
That lies across that lily leven?
That is the path of wickedness,
Tho some call it the road to heaven.’
Thomas the Rhymer, Sir Walter Scott.
I don’t think the human was born who didn’t, somewhere down the line, choose the broad, easy way. Whether it’s going along with the mob, or leaving a nasty chore undone, or deciding on what future you want – such as approaching a writing career, or even what sort of country you want to leave to your children.
Some of us learn young that if it looks the easy way… it probably isn’t. Others… well, maybe they got lucky. It happens sometimes. Some people go on believing that the easy way is going to work until they die. If the ‘easy way’ was believing (as indeed most ‘ people’s revolutions’ mislead to be) that the easy way would be take the wealth and possessions of others (no matter if they were bastards or you rationalized that it was yours for some reason) this ‘easy, quick way’ has a piss-poor success ratio. Usually, if anyone gets the wealth and possessions it’s some political scumbag, who is, if anything, more of a son-of-a-bitch than the previous owner). The collateral damage usually cripples much of the productive class of any country (no matter which side they were on) and it may be generations, if not millennia, before the place gets to be, on average, as good as it was. Africa, Asia, South America, the Middle East are full of these ‘easy’ way stories. It’s rather like the guy who puts enormous effort into creating a scam or heist… which seems the easy way to money. If they’d put that amount of work –and often money, into the hard, slow way… they might have stayed out of jail, anyway. Mind you, you could say: If I had put the amount of time, energy and money into something besides writing… I could have had a better outcome. But I do love dong it.
Hard way stories – like Singapore or Taiwan or South Korea, are somewhat rarer – but while thrift, a focus on education (in the hard subjects, unsurprisingly) and relentless hard work, and a long-view culture, are short term ‘hard’, the rewards tower miles above the ‘easy way’, as Venezuela, Zimbabwe and Gaza demonstrate. (Of course those in power (and wealth and comfort) in those countries wouldn’t be in power, let alone wealth and comfort, if they hadn’t had enough ‘easy way’ followers. They want the populace resentful, poor, and un-educated, to stay in power).
So how does this relate to the writer? Well, we are no less human than anyone else (Ok, except me. I’m less human and more simian. Leaving the trees was a mistake. Maybe even leaving oceans was not entirely well thought out. As for all this banging rocks together…) and there are plenty of people looking for the easy way.
Some of them look like they have found it, by playing race or sex cards, or by being the attack-dogs of those who do –which rather than their writing still has brought them as much promotion and support as the Trad publishing establishment can give, and ‘success’ for some measures thereof. The downside is their ‘state’ – trad publishing, is as a result increasingly fragile and frail, and able to leverage less year after year. I’m seeing more of them drifting into the only other ‘easy’ optionthey see open– teaching in the Arts at various colleges. Hmm. Those are ‘states’ are bound to succeed too, right?
And then of course, there is hard way. It’s not just writing – every possible day and a few impossible ones, and actually subjecting that to hard editing and critique, and studying hard to get your techniques right, and your backgrounds right. It’s pushing into areas and styles you’re uncomfortable with, stretching yourself. It’s doing what you don’t do well as well as just doing what you do find easier. And doing it again, and again, until you do that well too. It’s also that relentless promotion and social media (I too often take the easy way out on this).
It’s hard. It doesn’t always work. But the more often you try the hard way… the better your probabilities. And even the hard becomes easier. So you stretch and push some more.
O see ye not yon narrow road,
So thick beset with thorns and briers?
That is the path of righteousness,
Tho after it but few enquires.