I have been having one of those days. You know, the kind where last night’s problems run over into the morning, and you stumble into the day craving coffee and an opportunity to swap your life for someone, anyone else’s.
It started last night when I found out I needed to scrape my resume together to apply for a really cool opportunity to get some certifications, so that maybe I could get a real job someday. It turned out that I don’t have a resume anymore. Somewhere in one of the six moves we’ve had during the last five years (not an exaggeration, I’ve counted, we have really, actually moved that much) I lost my printed copy, and it got wiped off my computer hard drive. Poof. Resume gone.
I’ve done a really brilliant job holding onto the syllabi from every single English class I took in college, though. All my essays, too. And of course, I sat and read one or two of those essays, and I just could not believe how really, genuinely great the writing was. Which made me wonder: “What happened? The words, they don’t work like that anymore! How is this possible? I was a better writer eight years ago than I am now.”
So, naturally, I compounded the problem of scrapping together a resume out of thin air with one of those really dastardly thought-recordings. “You’re writing sucks. You’ve wasted the last eight years writing really crappy novels, while simultaneously being a lackluster parent, get a job you bum!”
Not exactly conducive to a positive outlook on a challenging situation, I know.
Then both kids were up at night, one with an ear ache and the other with this lingering cold, and by the time I dragged myself out of bed this morning I was entrenched in a grump-fest.
That was before the toddler pitched himself headfirst off a chair, the preschooler woke up still crying about her ear, and I missed the deadline for that certification opportunity by three whole minutes. Serious drama, all before nine AM.
Wondering where the cheery message is in all this? Hang on, I’m getting there.
While lying awake last night I churned up some pretty interesting novel ideas, and mentally hashed out some scenes for my next project. I scribbled them down this morning over my oatmeal. While the toddler napped, I worked on my revision. Because come hell or high water, I’m a writer. Even in the midst of despair over my writing career, I write.
It just keeps coming back, no matter how grumpy I get about it. No matter how crunched I am for time, no matter how crappy I think my writing is, no matter how many rejection letters I get, or how many other hobbies I try, I just can’t stop telling stories.
I had this thought, at some point last night, that I was like some lonely wolf howling into the night, way out in the wilderness where no one would ever hear me. And I was in the mood to linger over how sad and pathetic that was. After a while feeling sorry for myself, I came to my senses, and the bad-ass within said, “Fine. Know what you need to do? Howl as loud as you can until someone hears you.”
I’d have laughed if I weren’t trying to rock Little Dude back to sleep at the time. Because of course, if there’s one thing required of writers, it’s persistence. After the excitement of the first few chapters, the novel-writer must persist through the tangly knots of the story until she finds the end. When the first draft is done, revisions follow. Then careful editing. And if the ambitions are grander than passing a story around to family and friends, query letters must be written, agents researched, rejections weathered. I hear that it doesn’t get easier from there, either.
In the face of all that, a writer must cultivate a slightly crazed, single-minded drive to carry on. To brew the coffee, boot up the laptop, congratulate those who gain representation and book deals, console those who aren’t there yet, and write, write, write. I have no choice but to keep throwing myself into the fray, seeking critiques, adding to my pile of rejections.
The thing I cling to (now that I’m thinking reasonably, probably not so much last night in the midst of my whine-fest) is that my writing can get better. Right now, I slide writing into my life in twenty-minute slices, and my focus is on so many other things. The essays I wrote in college were given full and complete attention that I don’t have right now. Someday, though, I’ll have that kind of time again. And the best thing is, when that happens I will have learned some really valuable things. I’ve never been so focused or determined. College me could never have been so single-minded in pursuit of this goal.
In fact, college me just sat around waiting for novel ideas to fall in her lap! Hah! Guess what, college me, that doesn’t happen. As Pablo Picasso said, “Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.”
So yes, maybe I’m sitting here with a manuscript that was cobbled together in little segments,no resume, and some slightly rusty writing skills. But I’m also sitting here with greater wisdom than I’ve ever had before, a burning determination to get my writing published, and a willingness to learn everything I can to get there.
It’s okay to feel down, and to doubt. It’s okay to wonder, “Will I really ever get there? Is anyone else ever going to care about these characters I made, these stories I’ve told?” I’m pretty sure everyone has days when they are absolutely convinced that they’re the least awesome person on the face of the planet. Where you prove yourself is in your ability to persevere. To look your own dark doubts in the face, and write anyway.
This is what makes a writer.