I recently attended the Big Orange Book Fair at Chapman University in Orange, California. It was great fun and I had the opportunity to interact with several authors and also to enjoy their panel discussions.
One young writer spoke of her reluctance to do any marketing for her work (fortunately for her, her father thought otherwise) because she could only think of writing. For her, it was a thing she loved and the idea of publishing her work for the benefit of others hadn’t really occurred to her.
I had a nice conversation with her, and I must say I appreciated her focus on the love of her craft, even though I’m all for sharing one’s work with others, at least at some level.
This morning I ran across this quote from Rainer Maria Rilke (cited in Henri Nouwen’s book Reaching Out (p. 40). She is speaking to a young man who has asked her if he should become a poet:
“Nobody can counsel and help you, nobody. There is only one single way. Go into yourself. Search for the reason that bids you to write; find out whether it is spreading out its roots in the deepest places o f your heart, acknowledge to yourself whether you would have to die if it were denied you to write. This above all—ask yourself in the stillest hour of your night: must I write? Delve into yourself for a deep answer. And if this should be affirmative, if you may meet this earnest question with a strong and simple “I must,” then build your life according to this necessity; your life even into its most indifferent and slightest hour must be a sign of this urge and a testimony to it.” (Letters to a Young Poet. New York: Norton, 1954, 18-19)
This is helpful wisdom for anything that we feel compelled to do, whether in the arts, business, religion, medicine, law, sports, or whatever. Do we do this because of a hopeful outcome, such as recognition, money, prestige, or power? Or do we put our hands to this work out of love—love for the thing itself, love for the power that compels us, love for what it sparks within us?