Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The Zen of Nathaniel Hawthorne by Alison Henderson

“Happiness is like a butterfly which, when pursued, is always beyond our grasp, but, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.” ~ Nathaniel Hawthorne

Who knew Nathaniel Hawthorne was such a Zen guy? This sounds more like a quote from the Dalai Lama than one of America’s pre-eminent nineteenth century novelists, and the man who brought us The Scarlet Letter. However, in modern America, where busyness is often equated with happiness, it bears consideration.

We rush, rush, rush to accomplish as much as possible, but does accomplishment bring happiness? Sometimes, yes. Sometimes, no.

Think about your writing career. Completing a piece of writing—whether a novel or a blog post—brings a certain sense of satisfaction. I don’t know any writer who doesn’t enjoy the feeling of having written. The journey has its ups and downs, but the ending is sweet. At that point, do you take enough time to “sit down quietly” so happiness “may alight upon you”?

Career success these days stresses quantity. We are told we must be prolific in order to succeed. Every successful marketing strategy I’ve seen stresses the importance of producing multiple books every year, year after year. The best example is the three-book series, released back-to-back in three successive months. Obviously, each book is not written in a month, but one would still need to crank them out pretty quickly in order to be ready to do it again next year, and the next.

If a writer is capable of this level of productivity, it’s an excellent way to build a readership. It requires dedication, organization, and a tremendous level of plain, old-fashioned hard work. But does it allow time to re-charge, to sit quietly and let happiness happen? For those of us who are not Nora Roberts, this can be a quick path to burn-out. We think the frantic pursuit of higher sales will bring happiness, but will it? We’re all in different places. Only you can answer that question for yourself.

I don’t have an answer, but I do have this photo of a hummingbird at my lemon tree. To capture this image, I had to be still, sit quietly, and simply wait. I invite you to take a few minutes from your daily rush, take a deep breath, and let a little happiness find you.

Alison
http://alisonhenderson.blogspot.com

19 comments:

Jannine Gallant said...

Love the picture! I wrote pretty fast last year. This year, I'm not pushing myself. I have three book already written and not yet published. So, I'm not stressing over getting the next one finished. And I think I'm nicer to my family without the added self-pressure to produce!

Donna Michaels said...

You're right, Alison, taking a break is important, no matter your schedule. :-)

Alison Henderson said...

Jannine, now you know you can write fast when you need to. I'm glad you're enjoying a slower pace for a while. Enjoy Tara's last summer before college!

Alison Henderson said...

Donna, we all need to slow down from time to time, take a deep breath, and regain perspective.

Ashantay said...

Thank you. You've written a thoughtful post about an important topic. In case you weren't aware, Hawthorne once lived in an Utopian community in order to earn money to marry his wife. Even though he was critical of transcendentalism later in his life, I think some of it rubbed off. :>)

Alison Henderson said...

I think you're right, Ashantay. This is a very transcendental quote. Thanks for stopping by.

Hebby Roman said...

Very nice blog, very thought provoking. And Nathaniel Hawthorne, who knew? I know I feel a lot of pressure as an author to produce quickly and a lot of my fellow authors feel the same way. But then you have to ask yourself, if you're not missing a lot of the joy of being a writer? It's a thorny question, and in a way, gets back to artistic expression versus writing as a business. Used to be that way in traditional print publishing, and although we have more artistic freedom now, there are other, new pressures, especially to write fast and get a following, so our books will sell and make money.

Jody Vitek said...

Well written and on a topic that is current with today's publishing world. I put one book out a year and feel pressured at times with the one book. I envy my fellow writing friends who can produce three or more books in a year, but then I don't because I know I'm in the right place for me and my writing career. I'm happy where I'm at and that's all that matters. I wish each and everyone of my writing friends, published and unpublished, all the best.

Alison Henderson said...

It's a conundrum, isn't it, Hebby?

Alison Henderson said...

Jody, I try to put one book out a year, too. I've been feeling lazy/guilty for not having a new book out last year, but with our move and my husband's stroke it wasn't in the cards. I hope to have one out this fall. Like you, I feel I'm in the right place for me as far as my writing is concerned, so that's what I have to focus on.

Margo Hoornstra said...

Definitely words to think about, Alison. That is a fabulous picture, BTW. Worth the wait, as they say. I wish I could write faster than I do. Produce more. I'm one of those who really enjoys 'having written'. Thanks for a great post.

Alison Henderson said...

Thank, Margo. I've never been a fast writer, but I seem to get slower all the time - not a good trend. I love my hummingbirds. They're back in full force after a quiet winter.

Diane Burton said...

I'm so bad. I don't take time to savor the end of a book. I have to remember to sit back and enjoy the moment. Thanks for the reminder.

Alison Henderson said...

Diane, I hope you will remember to celebrate each accomplishment. You've earned it!

Claire Fullerton said...

Alison, you're as bright as they come in my book! Thank you for sharing your well written thoughts! And, I think you've got a point with regard to the idea that authors need to stay in the traffic, but then I think of Donna Tartt, who puts out a book every ten years. I think success in writing comes down to an individual's peace of mind. Every author has their own pace. It's exceeding that pace that stirs up trouble!

Alison Henderson said...

Spot on, Claire, as usual. We each need to recognize and respect our own pace.

Leah St. James said...

We also have to understand the rest of what's going on in our worlds. I wish I could produce more, but with a crazy-busy (stressful) full-time job, I'm doing the best I can. As I tell my kids, as long as you're doing your true best, you can be happy/satisfied. Thanks for the thoughts, Alison.

Alicia Dean said...

Excellent post! Very good advice, and no, I don't sit back and enjoy enough. It's always rush on to the next project. Thanks for the reminder, and the lovely picture. Must be calming to watch the hummingbird. :)

Alison Henderson said...

Leah, when it boils right down to it, all we can do is all we can do.

Alicia, the hummingbirds are everywhere right now. I love to watch them in the tall, red kangaroo paws outside my office window.