Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Surprising Words that Strengthen Dimming Dreams

We writers are a resilient bunch. We have to be. In what other profession do people willingly bare their souls knowing they will meet with rejection? Acting, perhaps. (Politics, too, if politicians had souls.)

In any given writers forum on any given day, you'll see writers bolstering one another up saying things like "Everyone gets rejected. My novel [insert shameless self-promo plug here] was rejected from 935 agents and publishers before it got into print. Hang in there!"

You almost never hear doctors in medical forums counsel, "Everyone dies. As a [insert medical specialty practice here], I lost 935 patients before I successfully saved a life. Chin up!"

A writer's life is akin to ducklings in the wind. The only way to survive is to roll with the buffets, get up, and waddle on.

Writing is not for the faint of heart. Writing as a bankable career is on a par with Professional Lottery Ticket Purchaser. All of your eggs are in the creative basket -- a notoriously unreliable transport device.

Every so often, this writer scratches the silver flake from yet another losing card and contemplates the possibility of getting a Real Job. You know: Benefits. Paid vacations. Regular paychecks. Dreams need not apply.
"You are not a winner..."

This train of thought usually boards when the Muse is A.) recently rejected, B.) stressed, or C.) digging through laundry for loose change 'cause the Hyundai doesn't run on dreams.
Why bother with writing? the exhausted Muse snarks. It's a safe bet that no one even reads your stuff. To make things worse, you haven't adhered to the first law of commercial writing -- which is pick a genre and stick with it. You're all over the map: non-fiction, fiction, historical, fantasy, kid's, adults... Who the heck are you writing for?

"Me," I'd answer. If I talked to myself. Which I don't. Usually.

Suffice to say that as 2011 wound to an end, I was seriously considering the job thing. I told my Writing Practicum about it -- eliciting moues of thinly veiled dismay. Oh, they understood the whole "I have to put food on the table" argument. But I got the distinct impression that I'd disappoint them if I became gainfully employed; as if by hanging up my dreams, I'd somehow pull the plug on theirs as well.

I'm not saying that one can't work a Real Job and still write. I am saying, however, that I know me. If I were working 40+ hours a week for someone else, away from home, I would fill up my time at home with things like chores, quality time with the animals, parenting, spending time with WunderGuy ("wifing?"), and sleeping. My productivity would most likely plummet.

As I wrestled with what to do, having lengthy talks with God about The Meaning of Life and harangued incessantly by the Snarky Muse, I wrote a series of blog posts that had everything to do with gratitude and nothing to do with writing. (If you're curious, "On the First Day of Christmas" started it all.)

The holidays exploded around me. My parents came up to visit for a few weeks. School vacation hit. WunderGuy finished his 5-week course of daily brain radiation. Christmas loomed. I caught up on all my client work, then went offline for a few days.

When I (finally) checked my email, I discovered the writer's equivalent of a winning lottery ticket awaiting me in my Inbox. No, it wasn't an acceptance.
It was something far better: appreciation.

A friend whom I haven't spoken with for several weeks wrote and told me how my recent series had touched her and her children. I learned that my words elicited both tears and laughter. I discovered that they had been shared with others.

She told me of her family's Christmas tradition: on Christmas Eve, they all read the Christmas story aloud from Luke. Afterward, each member of the family says what they are thankful for and shares their hopes and dreams for the upcoming year. "This year," my friend informed me, "I started with reading some of your 12 Days. Sometimes there wasn't a dry eye!"

I was humbled and honored to hear that the entire family had shared memories of me (years ago, I taught their homeschooled children). Though I wasn't there in person, I was blessed to be a part of their Christmas.

Nothing muzzles the Snarky Muse like an entire paragraph in which someone itemizes over 10 specific things you've written that they appreciate. And nothing makes you certain you're doing what you were created for like having someone take the time to thank you for the "many ways your writing helps and affects me."


We writers are a resilient bunch, 'tis true. But we're not machines. Google "why I quit writing" for a snootful of eminently depressing articles from those who gave up on their dreams. I wonder whether any of those posts would have been written had just one person taken the time to write and voice appreciation for another's words.

Our words can have a profound effect on those around us. As writers, we'd like to think that the words most effective are our own. But sometimes what keeps those words coming is a word or two from others that tells us we haven't yet said it all.

If you are considering telling your dreams of making it as a writer or an artist to take a hike, reconsider. You have no idea whose life your art is touching. You might literally be a bright spot in someone else's day. You might move them, inspire them, or cause them to think in a way no one else does. Imagine receiving a letter from your most ardent supporter. Think what that could do to re-energize your dimming dreams...

Now examine the flip side of that coin. When was the last time you wrote words of encouragement to let another artist know how much his or her work affected you? What's stopping you? You never know -- you might be the voice from the Great Unknown that gives another the resolve to keep on keeping on.


Gale Martin said...

Ami, Lovely post. Beautifully written, thoughtful. You are absolutely right to take care with each post. You never know who will be paying attention, when, or why?

Puzzle Queen said...

That's very true about writers.

Ami Hendrickson said...

Thanks, Gale, for commenting. I myself am too often guilty of not telling another writer or artist how much I appreciate their work. Resolving to remedy that. A short line of genuine appreciation is an *amazing* shot in the Muse's arm. ;)

Ami Hendrickson said...

Puzzle Queen,
Thanks for commenting. Onward & upward!

Lyndsay Wheble said...

Thrilled to share this.

Ami Hendrickson said...

Aww, Lyndsay,
Thanks! You da best. :)