Leaving a Record

Good advice from Charles Baxter

The truth is that, in worldly terms, someone is always doing better than you are. Someone is always winning more of the prizes or making more of the money or getting more famous. When you open the newspaper, someone else’s picture is likely to be splashed across the book page. In the vanity fair, you are always going to lose out to somebody else. And when no one else seems to care what you do, you will have to find your own consolation. You will have to care for yourself. That takes time and energy. In this way, a literary problem converts itself into a spiritual one. Perhaps you will have to invite the demons into the house of the spirit and put them to work. Only in that way will you understand what it means to be human. You must make an arrangement with yourself for the sake of leaving a record of what happened, of what was thought and felt and noticed, what it was like to be human when you were alive. This is incredibly hard to do. It requires a slight contempt for the dumbshows of the world and a great respect for the inner life. You may become a bohemian, someone who looks like a bum. You may end up selling dogs with fake pedigrees to the suckers. But if you appear faithfully at your desk, pledging yourself to the work, eventually the spirit will descend on you and you will write without any sense that time is passing, and when that happens, no one on earth is doing better than you are.


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