On the bulletin board above my desk, I keep a handful of quotes that have taught me something, or that I hope to learn from.
I believe that you either love the work or the rewards. Life is a lot easier if you love the work.
Now I have no idea where this quote came from. I mean, I know where I found it: In No Failure, Only Practice, a wonderful newsletter by Matt Bell. (I highly recommend that particular episode—issue?—of his newsletter, too, as it's just bursting with treasure.) But I don't know where Jane Smiley said it, or if she even really did. (Google hasn't helped me out here.)
All the same, I jotted this one down. It's the kind of sentiment that keeps a writer from veering into writing for the wrong reasons, or at least for less-than-honorable ones.
Bell gave it context in his newsletter, explaining that writers often stack goals—first it's about finishing a story, then getting that story published, then a novel, then bestseller status, and etc.:
The thing is, by the time you find out any of that, much of what novel writing can do for you has already happened. No one can take the person you’ve become by writing your book away from you; few outside accomplishments can honestly do more. If you are going to saved or restored or transformed by writing, it will happen long before your book hits the shelf.
I really appreciate the writers out there who remind us all that we're ostensibly doing this often thankless, often unrewarded work because it means something to us personally, not because it's going to fill the closet with expensive shoes or land us on the cover of The New York Times Book Review.