Near my workspace is a collage of sorts, a pseudo-bulletin board littered with photographs, awards, notes from agents and editors, business cards, goals, slips from Chinese fortune cookies. A visual representation of each step on my way to publication. In the nine years I've been seriously pursuing writing, I've moved across country three times. Somehow every one of those photographs makes me mourn, not only for friends left behind, but for the place I was in my writing.
Had anyone told me I'd miss sitting at my first RWA chapter meeting, feeling completely overwhelmed and struggling to decipher the "author lingo" in the program, I'd have thought them crazy. But before the rules came on like cement, hardening the complete recklessness of creation, before every choice came on like a calculated move in publishing's version of RISK, and story choices presented themselves like a literary buffet, I was a new writer. Fresh. Raw. Filled with an infectious optimism that permeated the friendships I made. A blissful ignorance of the long journey ahead.
Another picture is the snapshot of someone who knew the rules and had studied the writing bibles of Dwight Swain, Jack Bickham and others. Seasoned with the first of many scathing contest entries and the memory of a one-on-one critique so brutal it blistered the path for many steps to come, I understood the cost of offering the deepest part of myself to others. I'd come so far, I thought. Had I not focused prematurely on the golden ring of publication, I might have taken a breath. Looked around the humble kitchen nook in backwoods Mississippi to celebrate the intensity with which we attacked the words, the wading into fiction we all took together before a better understanding of the craft set me adrift into a more solitary task of creation.
Glancing now at the mementos of the past five years, the back half of this journey filled with increasing achievements and a sense of self as a writer I've never known, I pause and wonder if those moments soaked in through the patina of "what's next?" While I sat at the booting ceremony for the Golden Heart finalists, did I become so enraptured with the idea of being the next booted into the world of publication that I forgot to soak in the excitement of being the newest candidate? Before trying to navigate my square peg voice and style into the round holes of marketability, did I ever pause to celebrate the uniqueness only I can bring to the page? Will I miss the freedom now when I exchange it for outside expectations and deadlines?
We all know intuitively to mark rites of passage in our lives. Births. Deaths. Moves. Snapshots of celebration that fill the lives around us. Almost like an inherent radar, our minds capture these to draw on again. But how many times do we do that with our dreams? Are we so likely to keep our eye on the finish line, we miss the subtle changes in the landscape and within ourselves along the way?
So I propose a pause, just for today. Call to mind the things you'll miss at this moment in time when your dreams have whisked you far from this day and it's but a snapshot on the collage of your career. Instead of chasing down aspirations to come, breathe in everything that is now and right and leave them here...
What will you miss?