Thursday, September 17, 2009

On Dreamers and Doers

Every Tuesday evening, I facilitate the Writing Practicum, a group of writers dedicated to honing their craft and polishing their prose as they actively pursue publication.

We are all focused on the same goal – to become fabulously successful bestselling authors – and we are all committed to helping each other press on toward that goal.

Every week I am impressed anew with both the talent and the work ethic represented in our group. I am equally impressed by the lack of debilitating ego. We all know that we can write and are confident in our abilities. But no one feels compelled to pontificate and hold the rest captive. Instead, we are sincere in wanting to use what we know to help the others grow and improve.

For reasons that aren’t entirely clear to me, the Practicum is mostly comprised of adult women with complicated histories. And then there is our newest member: a very gifted 17-year old young man. He only recently got his driver’s license, he has just started college, he still lives at home… He’s just getting started in life.

His writing would be good even if he were 20 years older, but coming from someone his age, it’s quite remarkable. Not only can he put words on paper, but he also has good insights into what makes a piece work. He isn’t just there to get our opinions on his writing; he contributes opinions to the rest of us as well. In our Practicum of MFA’s and published authors, he holds his own quite well.

His mother keeps a fairly close watch on what he does, and every week he has to leave the meeting right at 7:30, whether we’re done or not. We all wish he could stay.

This past Tuesday as he was packing up his computer to slip away, a woman who has been in the workforce longer than he has been alive asked, “Do your parents have any idea how talented you are?”

They don’t.

“Would it help if we told them how good you are, how important this group is, and how we’d like you to stay?” another member asked him.

“Please don’t,” he said quietly. “You’ll just make it worse.”

His parents are not writers. They don’t understand how he feels driven to stay up until all hours of the night creating characters and worlds, bringing them to life, and seeing what they’ll do. They don’t realize how remarkable it is that he completed his first novel when he was 16 AND is willing to ruthlessly edit and rewrite it to make it better. They don’t grasp the magnitude of what it means when he can effortlessly turn out 50 very readable pages in a weekend.

I can only imagine what they think their son is doing for two hours every week with 10 ladies “of a certain age.” I like to believe that if they only knew the extent of the practical writing education he is getting, they would allow him to stay and give their blessing. But I may be deluding myself.

Though it may be true that a writer’s greatest resource is a miserable, misunderstood life, I firmly believe that a writer’s greatest asset is at least one person who provides support and encouragement to follow the Muse wherever it leads.

I have taught workshops where I heard horror stories of writers whose spouses ridiculed their efforts and their ambitions to the point where the writer hid his or her work and only worked on it surreptitiously. Clandestine creativity -- how sad. I daily consider myself richly blessed with a husband who wholeheartedly supports my chosen path in life.

Support aside, I would further argue that a writer’s greatest contributor to success is his or her commitment.

I spent Tuesday with Janet, a woman who has always known she wanted to be a writer – but life kept getting in the way. Now her children are grown and she is finally able to revisit all of the projects she has been thinking about for the past 20 years. She, too, is talented. But she has decades of putting a dream on hold to overcome. (We all know that once a thing is done, it’s easier to do it again…)

Sometimes, the older we get, the more we become used to not doing a thing. That inertia can be difficult to surmount.

I give Janet a lot of credit, though. She has lived in the state for less than a year. She attended her first writer’s conference this summer (that’s where we met). She drove over 3 hours one way just to have a face-to-face meeting and to talk writing with me – knowing that I am neither an agent nor a publisher. She is actively pursuing her writing and is learning about the publishing industry, too.

Which just goes to show that even with unqualified support from your family, friends, or significant other, they won’t make your writing dreams a reality. You still have to commit to making them happen.

I applaud the members of the Writing Practicum -- from the 17-year old to those in their 60’s – who are willing to say “my writing is a priority.” I applaud people like Janet, who are unwilling to let the vagaries of life wrest their aspirations from them without a fight. Their dedication and perseverance never ceases to inspire me.

In the end, I think that’s what it all comes down to – finding those qualities in others that encourage us to continue pursuing our own dreams.


Lindsey said...

Thank you for this. I love reading tidbits of exemplary life!

One of my mottoes is... the effort IS the goal.

Bravo! :)

Ami Hendrickson said...

Lindsey, I agree re: efforts and goals. To what end does one profit if one "wins" without excelling? Keep on keeping on!