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Sunday, April 27, 2008

A Pause

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?

6 comments:

Sandra Ferguson said...

Deep question that requires deep thought.

I, unlike you, haven't moved away from my writer buddies but have suffered their loss as several have moved from me. I hear their voices in my head, urging me on to be something more, write better, to never give up. I wish I'd taken those snapshots to keep the memories fresher.

I put together the storyboard collage you gave to me -- turned out pretty nice if I say so. But looking at the simplicity of these designs, I think that is what I'd miss. Writing without deadline, but only true character motivation instead. Being obscure enough to know any story is possible because the only expectations are those in my head.

Guess I'll see.

Marilyn Brant said...

What Sandra said :).

I've lived here since the beginning of my fiction-writing journey, but others have left. Sometimes they chose to leave just the writing, not the region--but I miss them and their immersion in the craft of storytelling.

And then there's anonymity. With every year of writing I've become more visible, which brings with it many gifts, but it takes away little pieces of freedom, too. Life's such a balance, isn't it?

Thought-provoking post, as always, L.A.

Kim Lenox said...

I've got a bulletin board just like that here in my office, with encouraging cards from my crit partner (who lives many many miles away), industry business cards, bits of historical research and take out menus.

And while I'm thrilled to be under contract, yes, I do sometimes miss writing in oblivious anonymity.

L.A. Mitchell said...

What really started me thinking about this was filing away a copy of my goal sheets and daily log for my IRS files. Months and months gone by where I'd done everything I'd set out to do, but I don't remember even stopping to acknowledge them. And, of course, those photos staring back at me saying, "Psst...remember us." :)

Sue L said...

You always have the most wonderful, thoughtful posts that make me stop and think about stuff. What will I miss when this moment is gone? It's hard to say - it seems that my life is currently revolving around my teenage son and my near-teenage son. I feel that I'm only hanging onto my writing and the horses by the tips of my fingernails. But my online crit groups are keeping me sane and I cherish those relationships, as well as those f2f meetings that I've missed these last couple of months.

I tend to look forward very much more than I look back, but I do look back sometimes to see how far I've come - but for the most part those who have helped me along are still by my sides.

Sherry Davis said...

You are so right; we do tend to look forward instead of at this moment.

I'm reading this great book by Eckhart Tolle that stresses the same numbness we all willing place ourselves inside of at one time or another. For whatever reason, we see looking ahead as an optimism instead of the denial it actually is.

Denial of failure or accomplishment is still denial.

So, yeah, I'm taking a moment just to breathe it all in. My list would be way beyond the five things, though. LA, Sandra, Mary, Delores, Andrea, Shannon, and all those writers who've encouraged and motivated me. And my hubby and kids. Every day, I know I can't give up on this dream b/c they believe in me.

Great post, LA.