“Do you really know why you’re called to do something you love? Deep down, it’s a mystery.”
Sometimes the universe sends you a gift: it just falls into your lap. Don’t you just love it when that happens? A big one came my way: I happened upon a reading by Junot Diaz, author of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. His first novel, it won a raft of awards, including the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. It’s a wild story wildly told. But how the novel got written is a roller-coaster ride in itself: angst, drama, despair, a writer’s block the size of Mt. Olympus — Junot Diaz suffered through them all on the way to getting his book published and winning the Pulitzer.
The Brief Wondrous Life took 11 years to finish. As Junot told the story, the problem wasn’t that he had “a lack of talent or training,” but that he “planned a book that needed a bigger heart. I needed to become the kind of person who could write this book.”
In the end, this meant that he had to be willing to fail and fail again and keep on writing — to struggle to get the book he had in his head and heart onto the page. He had to give up going for the quick fix or settling for less than the best he could wring out of himself. Here’s what he said about this struggle: “Usually, you’re awesome because you fail a lot. It’s impossible to learn and grow without failure. I always feel that the most successful people are the ones who have the greatest tolerance for failure.”
Art is difficult, Diaz mused, because you’re trying to create beauty from nothing. Musicians try to summon beauty through music, artists through art, and writers through the stories they tell. The biggest lesson he learned: “You have to be compassionate toward yourself.” His message to me when we spoke: “Be kind to yourself.” For the inspiring tale of how he finished his book, Google: Junot Diaz+Oprah. You’ll be glad you did!