Last week, someone at my day job asked, “Are you still writing?”
I have a love-hate relationship with that question because I suspect what they’re really asking is, “Have you published a book yet?”
I’ve been at this writing endeavor in earnest for 7 years (and twice as long in semi-earnest) and the answer is still “No.” I don’t have that golden stamp of approval bestowed by the world at large. But the answer is also “Yes,” I am still writing.
Why persist? I suspect we each have our own answer. My best answer is this: I have always loved books. I idolized my favorite authors, and I can think of no better way to leave a mark on the world than by connecting with other people through a well-told story.
There are strong outside forces at play in this business and sometimes trying to get published can feel a bit like standing next to the lucky one in the fishing boat. You’re casting away, getting nothing, and they casually toss in a line and haul out the biggest catch of the day. Do you throw away your rod? Or cast again?
Why choose something so hard?
There’s a lot of advice available to us about how to make it through a draft, how to develop a creative practice, and how to develop our craft. That’s all important because if you’re not producing, you have nothing to toss out there.
But the why goes deeper than these habits. It’s about the lifetime journey of lacing up your boots day after day when it rains, when it’s hot or when it’s cold, and when you’re tired. It’s the practice of putting one foot in front of the other, no matter what.
For me, it comes down to this: if I stop, I am giving up on that girl whose world expanded, whose mind grew, and whose imagination was fed by the stories she read. And to give up on her is to give up on my oldest, most true dream. To give up the dream is to give up on myself. And I just can’t do that. So, I write.
It’s taken time for me to understand this core truth, but knowing it has had a calming effect on my writing self. It’s helped me cut through the yammer of what everyone else thinks I should be doing and instead, focus on what I must do.
Focus on creating. For a long time, I played with writing. I dabbled and didn’t finish projects, I went to a conference and felt inspired. I read books about writing. I talked about writing. But I wasn’t actually writing. Only by focusing on our work and committing ourselves to continually getting better do we have something to put into the world.
Focus on effort. Measure only what you control. Wrote a story? Celebrate that proof of effort. Created a portfolio? That’s proof of effort. Queried? That’s proof of effort. The rejection? You have no control over that.
Stretch. There’s no limit to how much we can grow and change as artists. Instead of feeling like an imposter, or a beginner, embrace the lifetime accumulation of wisdom, craft, and skills that is available to us all. Practicing our craft is putting one foot in front of the other; it’s how we climb mountains.
Be nice. Be nice to your creative self; she is your wellspring, your source, and your inspiration. You’re in this together. Be nice to others. We’re part of a community and while we may dwell at different locations on this map, nobody stays where they are forever. We’ll have our turn on the island of ideas, the plateau of publishing, and the peak of prosperity. Make connections and see that overnight success is actually your friend who’s been getting up at 4 in the morning before her day job to trudge through draft after draft of her novel. Being nice is free – spend lavishly.
I have ambition, and yes, I’d love to tell my day-job colleagues that I only need the job of my heart, but that’s not where I am right now. The day job feeds my family and it’s fodder for my imagination, so I’m not bashing it. Plus, it takes the pressure off to succeed on a timeline that is 100% beyond my control. The only guarantee in this endeavor is If I stop writing, the stories die. That’s why I keep going.
What about you?
Mary Jane Nirdlinger is a frequent blog contributor and last blogged for SCBWI-Carolinas on “Writing from the Heart”. Mary Jane has been a member of SCBWI since 2014 and is currently writing a middle-grade mystery. She graduated from VCFA in January 2020. Visit her at www.maryjanenirdlinger.com and follow her on Twitter: @MJNwrites