I received – at the age of 72 – an MFA in fiction from Spalding University. I decided to go to graduate school because I had been working on a novel for years and thought the pressure of the MFA would help me finish it. My experience at Spalding was terrific. I added to my knowledge about the craft of fiction and I did finish a version of my novel. However, after I graduated, I lost momentum: teaching, being a mom, son getting married, being a wife, having a hip operation. Life intervened, as it tends to do. 

I don’t often talk about my work or show it to anyone except occasionally to my husband and assistant. But recently an old friend from my Hollywood days reached out to me and asked to see my novel. Since he lives mostly in Israel, and is not in my social group, I figured he would be safe, discrete and of course honest. 

Bill had good notes, and I realized I had to rewrite the book once more. I found a writer’s group with three other women who also have MFAs, very busy lives and books to finish.

Last week, I handed in my first submission (first chapter of my novel) to my writer’s group, and immediately fell into a depression. 

Here’s my inner monologue: “My work is so bad; they’ll hate it; why did I ever choose this (pre)occupation? No one will talk to me ever again. Everyone will look at me with pity. Poor woman, she thinks she can write. OMG, she teaches writing.” 

I spent 24 hours in this depression before I ran into my friend Malcolm Brooks at Owl & Turtle Bookshop Cafe. Malcolm, who is a composer and teacher just smiled and told me the story of his own fear of failure, reminding me that if I reach only one soul with my writing, I will have done my job. Malcolm’s story reminded me of Martha Graham’s letter to Agnes DeMille. Martha Graham and Agnes de Mille were, at the time of the letter, world-renowned dancers and choreographers at the top of their game.

DIVINE DISSATISFACTION

Martha Graham  to Agnes DeMille

There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that

Is translated through you into action and

Because there is only one of you in all time,

This expression is unique.

And if you block it, it will never exist through any

Other medium and will be lost.  The world will not

Have it.  It is not your business to determine

How good it is

Nor how valuable it is

Nor how it compares with other expressions.  It is

Your business to keep it yours clearly and

Directly, to keep the channel open.

You do not even have to believe in yourself or

Your work. You have to keep open and aware

Directly to the urges that motivate YOU.

Keep the channel open…

No artist is pleased…

There is not satisfaction whatever at any time.

There is only a queer, divine dissatisfaction, a

Blessed unrest that keeps us marching and

Makes us more alive than the others

From 1968-2001, I worked in the entertainment business, starting in publishing and moving on to television, feature films, animation and toys. I learned from the many accomplished people with whom we worked that we creatives are all afraid, no matter how famous we are. Example: having lunch with a successful agent, (it was just after the Oscars and four of his clients had won Oscars), I noticed the agent seemed dejected. And I said, “But Sam, you seem down. Four of your clients just won Oscars and Robin Williams’ movie just opened and it’s a huge success.” “Yes, he said, but Robin is really depressed. He doesn’t like some of the takes. Feels as if he messed up on a couple scenes.” 

This is a story heard again and again. As Martha Graham would say, “No artist is ever pleased.”

When you feel scared, read Divine Dissatisfaction out loud and check out this terrific video aby the Idaho State Ballet and this reading of Divine Dissatisfaction by Meryl Streep, spoken against YoYo Ma playing the cello.

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Kathrin Seitz teaches Method Writing in Rockport, New York City and Florida. She can be reached at kathrin@kathrinseitz.com or for more information see www.kathrinseitz.com.