Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Dashing Through the Mud

A few nights ago I dreamed I ran through mud that reached my thighs. I dashed (so to speak) along the shore of the ocean which had turned into a huge pit of thick, very wet sand and earth. It seemed I'd been slogging my way through it for years, and when I reached a certain point along the way I was handed (rather than water or a banana or whatever they hand out at races) a tiny victory. As I looked at each one, I was ecstatic at the enormity of my achievement, but soon the high generated by my triumph faded. I dismissed it and started looking forward to what I hoped would be a much larger and more important feat.

Here I am running through mud past my
knees, waiting for the ultimate victory.
Wait, that's not me. That's an old goat.
Okay, same thing. 
And so it went mile after mile, tiny victory after tiny victory. I was satisfied with my latest achievement only long enough to start dreaming of the next. Dreaming turned to dissatisfaction and soon I completely forgot what I'd achieved along the way in my continual, tiring quest for something bigger, something more important or meaningful. As you can imagine, I awoke the next morning discouraged, exhausted, and very, very dirty.

Okay, I admit it. I lied about the dream. But I have lived those first two paragraphs, and I imagine many writers share my experiences. Looking back at the years I've spent writing I see those events I would have, at one time, given nearly anything to achieve as they quickly faded away into an inconsequential break in the mud. I worked so hard for them, finally reached my goal, than dismissed them as meaningless as soon as I set my sights higher.

Now I have nothing against setting goals and working to achieve them. Nothing at all. It's how we (writers and others) make progress and keep ourselves going when faced with another mile (or 80 or 100 or more) of mud. But forgetting what we've achieved negates the importance of how far we've really come. I remember as a newbie writer dreaming of having my greeting card text published, seeing my name in the table of contents of one anthology or another, reading my newspaper column week after week, seeing my work published online, reading positive comments from readers, holding my published books in my hands, and any number of other milestones I once dreamed of reaching, and now relegate to the past, never to be appreciated or celebrated again.

The other day (and this one is true), I wondered if I should just chuck it all, put away my computer, and stop writing. Just think of the time I'd save, I thought, and how peaceful my life would be. But why had it come to that? It wasn't that I was discouraged, because my books are taking off and I have a great agent and publisher. Nobody said anything nasty or discouraging to me. I still believe in myself and my calling from the Lord to be a writer. So then what was it?

I was tired. Tired of my brain constantly churning as I think of new ways to market, of plots I've yet to explore, and the myriad things we writers have to do nowadays to market our work. I wondered if retiring from my writing career would allow me more time to do other things that interest me, visit my grandchildren more often, perhaps homeschool the granddaughter with whom I live. And yes, no longer writing would make room for those things in my life. Theoretically. To a degree. For a while. But eventually my mind would start writing my next book, my as-yet-unborn characters would start forming in the womb of my mind. (I know that's horrible, but remember, I'm tired.) My fingers would itch to hit that keyboard again, and I'd be off and running--through the mud, past those checkpoints, and on to the next one.

So I changed my mind. I will continue to write, market, agonize, edit, tear my hair out, plot, flesh out characters, explore settings, and yes, run through the mud. Perhaps I will never achieve the goals I've set for my writing, but I know if I don't keep on keepin' on, I certainly won't. The only way to discover what I'll find at the next checkpoint is to run toward it. And yes, I'll get tired, and yes, I'll dream of all I could do if I didn't write. But then the Lord will nudge me once more and I'll remember that I'm a writer.

I can't help it. It's what I do.

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