You might remember earlier this year I committed to learning how to write smart and not scared. At the time I was working on a picture book manuscript as I awaited first-round edits on my next novel.
That picture book is now on submission. The first-round edits are back with my editor. I’d love to say everything has been as easy as pie, but that’s not the way the writing life works — or any part of life, really. Here are the things I continue to learn as I think about writing in light of this mindset:
Discomfort will always be part of my process. I find the writing life wonderful and challenging and joyous and hard, but I often let the more difficult parts that come with writing play a starring role. I’m trying to remember those hard parts don’t get the final word. As Elizabeth Gilbert says, fear can ride in the car, but it has to stay in the back seat.
My deepest satisfaction comes from the work itself. I know this. But somehow along the way, sales and reviews and all the ridiculous externals out of my control can hijack what’s really important. A huge thank you to Marion Dane Bauer for her recent blog post I’ve read a couple dozen times about satisfaction and gratitude and letting go of the rest.
“No” is often a gift. All of September and October, I’ve been running on Wednesday evenings with my seventh grader’s soccer team. One particular Wednesday held the perfect combination of the out-of-my-hands highs and lows that make up the writing life. A novel was nominated for an award. A manuscript, after ten months with a particular editor and extensive re-writes, was rejected.
I left for the run pretty heartbroken and in need of distraction. As I settled into the soothing familiarity of a steady run, the clouds opened in a desert storm above us, and I was able to move beyond the disappointment, I was able to celebrate the beauty of my surroundings, the gift of movement, the privilege to share in this piece of my son’s life. And when our hour in the Sandia foothills drew to a close, I was ready to reflect on that rejection more objectively. The editor who said no to my work really gave me a gift. Her request for a re-write helped me find a stronger book in the process.
Choosing a challenge is ultimately satisfying. Writing the book I don’t know how to master can keep me up at nights, but that’s the direction my heart is often drawn. These words will keep me moving and believing.
Breaks feed my creativity. In the last four months I’ve re-written a novel for the second time, finishing with a mad twenty-five hour weekend dash to the end. Something that kept me focused during that last month of hard work was the promise I’d take a whole month off of writing afterward. Fear would not be allowed to drive me to spin my wheels in meaningless productivity. Outside of blogging, my focus would be reading.
I’m in week three of my writing vacation, and let me tell you, it’s everything I needed and more.
When I first mentioned this concept of writing smart and not scared, a number of you contacted me to say you were all in. I’d love to hear how you’re doing in the comments below.
jeannine atkins says
I’m so glad to hear about what you’re getting from your writing vacation. The well is so important. And yes, that run, and seeing the beautiful world after that rejection. If that were me, and it has been, there would have been some angry words shared with the sky. A necessary clearing out. It’s not pretty, but there’s a necessary time for I’ll-show-them and we do — prevail. Looking forward to your next gift to us.
Oh, Jeannine. You’ve been so kind to me. I’ve returned to your words about Blue Birds often.
I had a good cry before heading out for that run. It’s so interesting how some rejections are no big deal and others feel like everything. But you’re right. We keep moving forward because that’s what we do. There is no other direction to go, and that is such a good thing.
Kimberley Griffiths Little says
Perfect post, Caroline, thank you! I relate too well. 🙂 I also read Marion’s post that you linked. It was great, and I appreciated her long-term perspective after being “in the trenches” for more than 40 years.
I appreciate YOU! xo
Likewise, Kim! Let’s chat soon. xo
Kimberley Griffiths Little says
You going to the schmooze this Tuesday? I wonder if I could get up to town sooner for a little chat before the dinner . . . or we could have our own dinner somewhere along Paseo? It’s been a long time since I’ve seen you and really talked. We’ve missed each other all summer at the schmoozes. I go one month and you go the other, LOL!
I’ll be there. Emailing now.