On Writing: Good Days and Bad
There is a scene at the end of The Pursuit of Happyness (2006) that always affects me in a powerful way. Throat tightening, tears of gladness. Stoic tears, mind you. The manliest of tears.
Throughout the film, we watch Chris Gardner (played with aplomb by Will Smith) get repeatedly knocked down. Over and over. He loses his house. His wife leaves. He starts an internship at a brokerage but it’s unpaid, so he tries to sell medical devices nobody wants. Chris and his son take to sleeping in a public bathroom. Anything that can go wrong, does.
The firm is planning on awarding one full-time position at the brokerage to the intern with the most promise. Due to events largely outside of his control, Chris comes to the final interview in dirty pants and a wife-beater, and with paint in his hair. It’s not a good look.
Fortunately, the partners have been paying attention and they know what they have in Chris. He is told a few days later that he got the job. Visibly emotional, he mostly manages to hold it together until he gets outside. And then, surrounded by people on a busy walkway, he begins celebrating. We watch as his disbelief becomes satisfaction and then joy.
I was reminded of that today.
Quite out of nowhere, Medium bestowed a nice little bonus upon a thousand writers who made the most impact on members in April (determined by reads, claps, and follows). I felt something like Chris Gardner in the aftermath: hand on head, vaguely confused, unsure what to do next. But mostly: joyful.
And because God’s timing is always impeccable, today I also received my contributor copy for samir Cinema, a new journal devoted to film and TV (topics near and dear to my heart). I was approached to contribute last fall, after one of the editors discovered a story I’d written here on Medium in 2019. They paid me cash for a story I’d written over a year before and had mostly forgotten about.
It is sometimes hard to measure progress as a writer. We have measurables here— followers, views, reads — but those are really more indicators of popularity, and they are flimsy at that, susceptible to bots and people trying to game the system. I personally feel like my writing is better than it’s ever been, but that’s esoteric and given to the whims of my writer’s ego.
Money is not an indicator of good art — we’ve all read terrible books that were stupidly popular. But it does help identify progress. People giving you money for your work means they see value in it — the message, the construction, the voice.
The lesson here is the same as it’s always been: keep writing. Every word put down is another step forward in your journey. You never know who’s out there watching you work, and where your stories may eventually take you.