The Benefits of Adversity

By Mark Alpert


The weather was wonderful this week in New York City. Temperatures in the seventies, a cool breeze whipping across the Hudson. Fantastic days for biking in Riverside Park, having lunch with friends in Midtown, going to the movies in Greenwich Village. (My wife and I went to see the new Woody Allen movie, which wasn’t so bad.) And the kids were away at camp! What more could you want?

In contrast, the weather the week before was incredibly hellish. The temperatures were in the nineties then and the humidity was unbearable. When I went biking I was drenched in sweat and panting from all the ozone in the air. It was absolutely brutal. Everyone was in a terrible mood.

But this week wouldn’t have seemed so wonderful if the week before hadn’t been so terrible. That’s one of the great benefits of adversity: the bad days force you to appreciate the good ones.

The same principle applies to the professional life of a commercial novelist, which — like a New York City summer — has its fair share of bad days. Unless you’re fantastically fortunate, you won’t make a lot of money. And you’re pitted against a ferociously intransigent foe, the unbudging indifference of a culture that usually ignores novels by unknown authors unless they’re supported by well-funded and well-connected marketing efforts.

But the failures force you to appreciate the successes. I signed another book contract today, and that always makes me feel good. I’ll feel even better when I get the check for the advance.

So don’t let the bad days get you down. Whenever I get depressed about the writing life, I think of the wonderful last words of the John Cheever story “Just One More Time.” (See the image above, from a 1955 issue of the New Yorker.) The story is about the recklessness and blind optimism of the Beers, a pair of down-on-their-luck socialites who seem to be headed for destitution until they inherit a new fortune: “For the Beers are charming — they always were — and now they appear to be smart, for what else was it but smart of them to know that summertime would come again?”

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About Mark Alpert

Contributing editor at Scientific American and author of science thrillers: Final Theory (2008), The Omega Theory (2011), Extinction (2013), The Furies (2014), The Six (2015), The Orion Plan (2016), The Siege (2016), and The Silence (2017). His latest thriller, The Coming Storm (St. Martin's Press, 2019), is a cautionary tale about climate change, genetic engineering, and Donald Trump. His website:

8 thoughts on “The Benefits of Adversity

  1. Congratulations on signing another contract, Mark. It is all material, but some of it may not look like it at the time. Thank you for the post and the perspective.

  2. The Stranger: How things been goin’?
    Lebowski: Oh, y’know, strikes and gutters, ups and downs.
    The Stranger: Sure, I gotcha … Take it easy, Dude. I know that ya will.
    Lebowski: Yeah, well, The Dude abides.

  3. I couldn’t agree more about needing the bad to better appreciate the good. Without the comparison, we wouldn’t be able to fully appreciate the wonderful parts of life.

    And congratulations on signing a new contract. Definitely a high point worth celebrating (regardless of the weather).

  4. Congratulations on your new contract, Mark. Everyone goes through bad times. The advantage of being a writer is we can use them as story material.

  5. Congrats on the new contract!

    And definitely taking the weather analogy in stride. Arizona summers may be brutal but they are relatively brief. September’s cooler nights are just around the corner….

  6. Congratulations on signing the contract! That surely put a special sparkle on the day.

    I know that when I have several days in a row in which the words don’t flow, the memory of them can be overwritten (as it were) by just one good day. Then it seems like every day to come will surely be wonderful, too. Surely. ; )

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