“The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.” ― Eleanor Roosevelt
I woke this morning with renewed respect for my Mama, who gave me so many notepads and diaries with lock and key, and told me to “go write about it” from the time I could hold a #2 lead pencil in my fat little hand, and who wrote and published four books in her lifetime, plus endless stories and articles and short pieces that never saw the light of day. Renewed respect for all my writer friends, as well.
I turned to writing for so many reasons: to live in my imagination and engage myself in an all-consuming activity when I was bored; to get accolades from my teachers when I turned in an assignment; to unravel my jumbled thoughts and figure out what was really going on in my head; to describe something beautiful or horrible or see the magical in the mundane; to record the events of the day or to make up stories about little girls who were like me, or who I felt I really was inside in spite of my skinny legs and awkward ways. Plus, I saw my parents writing every day of my childhood, so it was almost a foregone conclusion that I, too, would write.
“Writing mattered in our house. It was a noble thing, an adventure: to live by your wits, by the powers of your observation, then put it in print to tell a story. Both my parents wrote for a living; my father was a newspaperman, my mother a novelist, biographer, and historian. Revealing the way you saw life had value. Writing was considered a brave act.”
From Shopping with Mama: Write ’til the End out fall, 2018
Publishing a book, however, is an altogether different task. It involves critique and endless revisions, writing queries and synopses, chapter outlines, long and short bios, tag lines and log lines, making the pages pretty, creating a cover and a website, advertising. (Tip: That’s what an experienced writing coach can help you with.)
A writer who gets her work out into the world is not the person who wrote it. An often introspective introvert must turn into a high level administrator and self-promoter, an extrovert. She needs to get out into the public eye, ask people for help, talk about her work, and know how to ask for a sale. She must handle the slings and arrows of many rejections, and when she finally publishes, know some will not like it, might refute the events in her accounting, think she has a “big head” or worse, not mention it at all. (A book or a poem is like a baby, you know. Imagine never even mentioning someone’s child.)
Seeing her baby grow into adulthood, to send it, independently on its way, involves taking the next step, and the next, breathing through her inexperience, her anxiety and timidity, doing it regardless of the outcome. It’s like going a little crazy, while still believing in yourself.
Meanwhile, the writer is often already creating another “baby” – a blessed act where she can let her heart sing and dig into her interior thoughts and feelings, returning to her natural self. Moving back and forth between these two personas can feel schizophrenic. But as long as the writer has the interior space in which to create, the rest feels at least, possible, if not comfortable.
I saw a meme on Facebook this morning that said the following: “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life work super fucking hard all the time with no separation or any boundaries and also take everything extremely personally.”
But there are Big Benefits to finishing, too—to publishing.
For one, there is an incredible amount of learning and clarity that comes from taking a project across the finish line. (The alternative is not better! Imagine how it might play havoc with your self image, needle and nudge you relentlessly, reinforcing old stories that you can’t, you aren’t good enough or talented enough….) The fact that you do it can transform these stories, and you become another person.
Finishing gives you head-space: to rest, enjoy life, and then, create what’s next. Learning what you can only learn in the very final stages of a project, especially one that is going to be read or watched or any way interact with other people, requires you to add to and improve your skills, fine-tune ideas, accelerate effort. It requires you to grow.
And then there’s the deep satisfaction of doing what you said you would do and keeping your promises to yourself (or in this case, Mama.) And the joy of beholding something now in existence that was previously only an idea in your head.
You do know how to wash your face and meet the public; how to read aloud, answer questions politely, maybe even with some depth or insight. Your Mama taught you that
As for publishing, it reminds me of the old Pete Seeger song … “Step by step, the longest march can be won…many stones do make an arch, singly none.” It’s micro-accomplishments, bit by bit..
Here I am, spanning the writer/publisher divide.
I am looking for the keystone.