What Are the Odds?

I’ll confess that this one’s going to be on the spiritual side, so consider yourselves warned.

The idea that the dog’s surgeries could be tens of thousands of dollars has me a little panicked. I find myself in looping conversations about “he’s hurting and I want to help him however I can” and retorting “yeah, but literally at what price? What happens when you need to replace your car? Does this mean you’re not going to fix the things that are broken in your house? Take a vacation for the next five years?” and then brainstorming “well, maybe I could take some freelance work. Or start a side business” and then arguing with myself about (a) how much I hate freelancing and (b) how much work it takes to make actual money on a side business, given self-employment taxes and so forth. My brain is a noisy, stressful place, right now.

And then I hear another voice. I had an idea about a series of children’s books, based mostly on the dog, a couple of months ago. And I just keep finding more stories to tell (not that I’ve actually written a single word of them). And the voice I hear says “what do you think that idea was for?”

I’ve had people tell me that I should be a writer since I was 7 years old. I won my first prize for writing at 7 or 8, and I won prizes including publications in national magazines outside school throughout middle and high school. One of my majors in college was Writing. But I’ll tell you, it seemed mostly like it was a parlor trick I could do. Slightly more useful than my lifelong ability to gross out my sister-in-law with demonstrations of double-jointedness. People made a big deal of it, but it wasn’t a passion for me. In fact, in general, I have found it pretty unpleasant. I worked at it, because it seemed like a skill I could build on, but that itching to write something? I haven’t felt it as often as it seems like “real writers” do. What I’ve felt called to was helping people with that itch to do it better. It’s what’s made me a good editor. I can employ my skill without vision to a vision, and optimize it. And that felt like enough. But I wondered if it was a cop-out. This blog is partly my attempt to figure out whether it’s a cop-out. Do I have something to say?

And if you’re here, you know I have plenty to say. I’m not sure all of it is worth inflicting on all of you— I’m doing quite a bit of free-writing, so you’re having to wade through a whole ton of words to get to anything I apply any craft or planning to. And while that may or may not be awesome for you, the thing that I struggle with as a writer is getting to the point that I could shut my internal editor up enough to say anything at all. So it’s working pretty great for me.

But this series of books? I feel a compulsion to write them. I feel panicky that I’m not working on them.

I’ve been a publisher. I know the odds are against my getting published through traditional channels. I know that the odds, even if I am published, of personally making tens of thousands of dollars, are even lower.

But I keep on thinking of that cliche “If God brings you to it, He will bring you through it.” Is that what this looks like? I’ve spent a lifetime learning how to be a writer, what it takes to get published in this day and age, what it takes to make money in the punishing work of book publishing. Could this be the thing? I’m going to try to figure it out. Not betting the farm, not yet, but… wouldn’t it be great?

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11 thoughts on “What Are the Odds?

  1. With rare exceptions, I don’t much like writing, I like *having written.* There are rare periods when it is easy and the words flow, they are more the exception than the rule. Writing in many cases is a struggle. I fear the vulnerability of revealing my weaknesses, which are many, and all the other things that my brain tells me not to say. I’m very good at finding ways to avoid writing.

    • I can absolutely relate. But something is shifting in me. Not only am I posting, like, three times a day here (and feeling like I’m trying the patience of my sainted readers, to the extent that I have them— honestly, I have ideas for many more posts than I have time to write), I’m writing in journals and writing this series of books in my head. I haven’t written a word of the books, but I’m wrestling with characters and perspectives and plots and intent in ways that make these books much more real than some things that I’ve actually written. And I’m finding that my vulnerability and fear is a much bigger deal to me than it is to anyone else, which is making it seem like a smaller deal, just by shining light on it.

      I know that old saw about “a real writer is one who writes”— it’s part of what put me on this road, because in some sense, I think of myself as a writer deep down, and I wasn’t writing, so I felt out of synch with myself. Inauthentic. But now that I actually write, it’s becoming a different thing for me. I understand what I think at a different level. It’s spurring me to action. My life is changing for the better all around me because of things I’m writing. And I hope that is soon the case for you, too. You deserve it.

      • In some ways, yes. It’s part of why the column still exists,(i.e. writers write, and having a deadline where I’m committed to getting something out) even if most days it feels like a failure.

        i feel more competent, in some ways, and somethings are easier, but, I think, that going to the next step, getting better, and getting to a level of the next level of competence, or, whatever, that has some significant growing pains, and I’m terrified, especially since, I feel like the first rounds was only minimally a success, so, why am I even bothering?

        I tend to feel like free writing, or at least posting free writing, is self-indulgent and narcissistic (when it’s *me,* I know that the context matters, and certainly wouldn’t think of you that way, it’s just one of the special manifestations of that struggle I have, feeling that I owe anyone who reads anything I put out much more than half-formed thoughts and whining, even when I really, really, really want to whine. Maybe especially then.

      • I don’t disagree with you that posting free-writing is self-indulgent and narcissistic. I can’t really answer the question of why anyone would want to read what chores I did and didn’t do today. But frankly, my problem is not-writing. That is, my problem is all the ways that I talk myself out of saying anything at all. My internal editor is much stronger than my internal writer, and has kept my internal writer bound and gagged for most of my life.

        That’s what’s made it painful to write. It wasn’t the writing that sucked, it was the sitting in judgment of myself and heckling myself as I wrote it.

        FWIW, it sounds to me like that’s what you’re saying. You’re unhappy because you’re not writing. You can call yourself names (narcissistic and self-indulgent) all day long, but it’s not helping you do the thing you want to do.

        What works for me may not work for you, and I’d never be so bold as to say that it should. But what’s working for me is not to call myself names, just to write. Not to worry about making any specific thing worth any specific person’s time but my own. I’m letting my readers choose what matters to them. My job is just the writing. And I’m finally, after almost 10 months, getting to the point where the writing itself is joy. Where the floodgates are open far enough to give me some choices about what to write. I’m finally capable of a shitty first draft, which is what I need for this to ever go anywhere. Because me waiting for perfect prose to emerge from my fevered brow before I started writing? It wasn’t serving any purpose, not for me, not for anyone.

        That thing Ira Glass says about the gap between your work and what you want your work to be? https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/309485-nobody-tells-this-to-people-who-are-beginners-i-wish
        That’s what this is about for me. It’s just sitting down and writing. Demythologizing invention. Saying what I have to say on any given day without judgment. What I’m good at is fixing raw material. Where I was struggling was in a lack of my own raw material. I no longer have a supply problem.

        I will need to start applying more craft. This may not be the forum in which I do that— this might be where things are born and nurtured. I might apply craft somewhere else, so as not to inhibit and frighten the newborns. My grown up work might be somewhere else. But for now, I’m enjoying hanging out in the nursery, when I can, and finally grateful for the abundance and joy.

        FWIW, I acknowledge that this book series I’m not writing? That’s a little about the vulnerability thing. I know that while it’s in my head, it’s safe. It’s perfect there. In the real world, it’s not likely to be/stay perfect. That scares me less than it used to. I feel like I just need to get it down and see what shape it takes, and then I can work with it. And if it falls too far short to carry the promise I see in it? I have loving and compassionate First Readers who have promised to tell me the truth. I trust them to apply discernment to what I come up with. We don’t get just one chance to get things right, thank Heaven, and I’m finally starting to really understand that.

  2. Yeah, I agree with all of that. You are correct. Lots of excuses, not much doing. It is much easier to be doing it when I’m consistent, and I am bad about sustaining the consistency, and bad about the discipline.

    And, thanks for saying so.

    • To be clear, I wasn’t calling you names, or advocating that you call yourself more names. I don’t think you’re bad. And I think that you telling yourself that you’re bad at this and bad at that is not helping you to want to do it. I’m for you being 100 percent sweeter to yourself. At very least. In pretty much every area. But speaking creatively (and with full knowledge that you didn’t ask my advice and that I don’t love unsolicited advice myself), I’d love to see you follow your bliss for a little. Even if it didn’t immediately take you anywhere “productive” or practically defensible. Write something because it makes you feel better. Maybe at first you’re whining, but once you’ve got it out of your system, write about things you love. That make your day better. That fascinate you. Whether they build your brand or not. Worry about the brand once you find a way to turn this back to joy.

      • I know you weren’t and, I wasn’t mad, I was acknowledging you are right. I’m genuinely grateful. I don’t really know how to be nice to myself, which means that right now, all I got is acknowledging you are correct. I got a few hundred words written at lunch that I did like, so, progress.

  3. I’m glad that you got something you liked, today. And I didn’t think you were mad. But I can relate to the “I don’t really know how to be nice to myself” thing, and it’s something that I’m working on, myself. You might not know how to be nice to yourself, but you’re really good at figuring out how to be good to others. Is it helpful to you to think about it like “what would you do for her if you had a friend/sister/relative like you?” How would you pick her up if she were having a bad day? How would you make her feel special? If you can externalize it a little, you might be able to see some of the ways that you do for others that could apply to you. The things you say about yourself that you wouldn’t say about your worst enemy. The slack you’d cut for anyone else that you punish yourself for. At least, that’s what it looks like in my house.

  4. Hi! Ray and I have just been advised that you are now a Follower of our blog. That’s so cool! You should be aware though (in the interests of creative honesty and integrity) that I am doing the writing. Apart from the fact that Ray’s feet are on the large side for a keyboard, his literary skills are considerably limited however, he can create a seemingly infinite number of story ideas for me. We’re a team! We both hope that you get as much pleasure out of reading our Posts, as we get out of writing them.

  5. Pingback: Let Me Count the Ways, Day 1: Top Conversation Starters | Adventures of Auntie M

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