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On the Hungry Lion

"But I should have a whole BOOK DEAL by now!"
There is this lion who is always hungry. A growly, skinny lion who lurks around in writers’ heads, pacing up and down, pouncing on things and failing to catch them, roaring and huffing and grumbling at everything that's currently out of its reach, scratching away at the insides of your head with his sharp paws.

When you’re just starting out, the lion watches all the writers who have finished their novels and are sending them to agents. He asks why you haven’t finished a novel yet, when other people who have more children than you not only have time to finish novels but also to make tiny, brightly coloured cakes and post them on Pinterest. "Where is your finished novel?" he growls. "You haven’t made any cakes recently. You haven’t made anything at all. You don’t even know where your kitchen is." (Lions tend to talk in italics a lot.)

And then you finally reach the next stage and you have a polished novel, and you enter the query-go-round. This makes the lion unbelievably hyper. He starts watching other writers, ones you like a lot, ones you think are okay, ones you’re kind of uncertain about. Especially the ones you’re kind of uncertain about. "She has an agent," your lion points out. "He has an agent too. Why does he have an agent when you don’t? Why is it taking you so long?"

And then you eventually find the right person to represent you, and you find yourself on sub. Your lion takes out a subscription to Publishers Weekly. "What?" he rages. "That novel sold, but not yours! The world is a terrible place! You should give up on it all and bake cakes! Except that you don’t even know how to bake cakes!"

Finally one of your novels sells. Does that satisfy your lion’s hunger?

Only for a little while, just like everything else. There’s the publicist who doesn't seem to have enough time to do anything for you. The highly regarded reviewers who didn't like it. The other, similar book that came out around the same time which is doing slightly better. The fodder is endless. There’s always that prey, slightly out of reach, no matter where you are on your journey. The question is how you tame the lion.

I like to silence my lion by finding joy in what I’m doing – specifically, in the doing of the thing that I’m doing, as opposed to what I hope the result will be. Because while recognition, publication, and fame are all things I daydream about (who doesn't?) the real reason I write is because I love writing. I love writing on the days when I write a thousand words effortlessly, on the days when every word is hard work and a single sentence is a victory. I love writing on the days when I have lightning bolt breakthroughs which make all the things that have been confusing me about the second chapter suddenly make sense, on the muddle-brained days when the plot and I seem to be moving in completely different directions. I love writing on the days when I have many glorious hours to pour into my novel, on the days when the toddler doesn't nap and I end up writing incoherent words late at night.

The thing about writing – and creative pursuits generally – is that you can never rely on the external stuff that your lion craves so desperately, on having other people tell you that what you’re doing is worthwhile. Only you are capable of that.

Your lion might be making it hard for you to believe this at the moment, but this place that you're in right now is a good place, and this thing that you're doing is a good thing. Keep doing it.

Image courtesy of khunaspix /

Leila Austin

Leila lives in Middle Earth, also known as New Zealand, and writes YA fantasy.

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  1. What a wonderful message! We're doing a good thing right now.

    Incidentally, the lion does make a good point, vis a vis my kitchen. Where is my kitchen? Has anyone seen it? I've been eating after-dinner mints and drinking shower water for weeks now.

  2. Oh boy. I needed this pep talk after a long week of self-loathing, doubt, and rewriting the same sentence over and over again. I too wonder how others are able to accomplish so much in a day. Where do they find the energy? Do they sleep? I need sleep. And coffee. Coffee is good.

    I have a new mantra inspired by your post: I am a writer. There is where I'm suppose to be. This is a good place.

    It sounds a little like Wreck-it Ralph, but I'm okay with it. :) Thank you for the post. XOXO

    1. TYPO ALERT! I meant "This is where I'm supposed to be."

  3. Thanks for this! Much appreciated words of inspiration.

  4. I just LOVE this post, thanks for it, it's always good to know you're not the only one with a lion growling in your ear!

    I've been making a real effort to find joy and not listen to my lion this year, after he got a bit crazy at Christmas.


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Item Reviewed: On the Hungry Lion Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Leila Austin