When Nathaniel Hawthorne was a young man just starting his career, he was fired from his government job at the local custom house. He returned home in despair. His wife listened sympathetically to his tale of looming tragedy, then lit the fire, put pen and ink on the table, and gave him a comforting hug, and told him, “Now you will be able to write your novel.” So Nathaniel pulled himself out of the Slough of Despair and penned, The Scarlet Letter.
As many of us have read or heard, the Chinese word for “crisis” is composed of two picture-characters — the one meaning “danger” and the other meaning “opportunity.” On the day, so many years ago, when Nathaniel sat down and found the strength to write despite his his fears, he found an opportunity in his crisis. And we can, too.
As writers, like Nathaniel, we face many dangers in our work and our lives. Circumstances may be threatening or uncongenial to our work. We may face the danger of doubt as we wonder whether what we are writing will prove good enough. The hydra-headed danger of confusion may rouse itself and make us feel that we are lost in a tangle of words or revising that we will never find our way out of. Or we may face the danger of rejection, which can be so discouraging.
Yet, within each of these dangers, there is an opportunity waiting to be found. If our circumstances don’t favor us, we can change them or use them as a form of friction to push us forward. If we doubt ourselves, we can fight through it and come out stronger. If we feel confused and keep going, we may find a fruitful detour or byway or even a whole new direction. And if we face rejection, we can use it to improve and grow.
So, like our friend Nathaniel, when crisis hits, let’s give ourselves a brief moment of despair, and then let’s pull our our pen and paper, or fire up our computer, and use the danger we face to write dangerously. And when we take this step, we, too, will find our own opportunity waiting for us. Write on!