You know that scene in Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince where Harry & Dumbledore are in the cave, and Harry has to keep making Dumbledore drink that horrible poison? No matter how badly it hurts Dumbledore, or how badly he begs for mercy, Harry has to keep lying to him and telling him things will be okay. And with each of Dumbledore’s cries, a little bit of Harry dies.
Sometimes I feel like Harry Potter.
Almost every single day, one of my writing friends is crying out in pain. They’ve had a bad rejection; or they’re struggling with a story; or maybe they’re just looking at the long road ahead of them, that steep grade they’ve been scrambling up for so long, and realizing that there’s no end in sight. The business of writing is so incredibly hard sometimes, and the payoffs are often few and small and they never seem big enough compared to endless work to be done.
But I keep telling them that it will be all right, that they will persevere, that the next corner they turn will be the big corner, the home stretch.
Like Harry, I am lying. The odds are stacked against each and every one of the fine writers I know. In 2007, John Joseph Adams interviewed the director of the Odyssey workshop, one of the most respected writing training programs for speculative fiction writers. She said that “fifty-three percent of Odyssey graduates have gone on to be published professionally…. This is the highest percentage of post-workshop success reported by any of these programs.” The attendees of the Odyssey program are selected for their talent and writing ability, and these people have the benefit of six weeks work with the best minds in the industry.
And yet just over half will go on to be published professionally.
Who am I to argue against these odds? Maybe I could spare just one person the agony of living life as failed writer. I could tell my best friend to take a break. To enjoy a movie tonight, instead of rewriting her story to send out to yet another editor. I could tell my sister, who is just finishing her novel: “Stop while you’re ahead. Why not spend the weekend with your kids?” Maybe I should just put away my manuscript and play a board game with my sweetie-pie, the way we used to spend time together before I started writing novel #2.
You see, we give up so much to be writers. We take that time we could have spent relaxing or being with our families or working out and we make words instead. Eventually, there are people who will realize it’s a cruel trade.
Do you remember the last scene in Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows? Harry says goodbye to Ginny so he can do what it takes to fight Voldemort. He gives up love for what might be an unwinnable fight.
But Ron and Hermione are right there with him. They don’t know if they can stand a chance against the most powerful dark wizard of all time–but they know they have to try. And deep down, the Trio keeps hope alive inside them. Because they’ve got guts.
To keep writing will take all the guts you have. It will take all the guts I have. The people who go on to get published are the people with the biggest bravest guts, and the willingness to keep pushing harder. Like Dumbledore, some days I won’t have the will power I need–and I might have to ask you to lie to me. To pour a little false hope down my gullet so I can keep fighting just a little longer. Long enough to be bully up my spirits.
I’ll be your Harry Potter if you’ll be mine. And as a team, we can be the Writers Who Lived.