Jerry Seinfeld is famous for his “show about nothing,” which some would argue is actually about everything, a group of friends experiencing the absurdity and hilarity of everyday, mundane life. That’s something. I dreaded writing this post. I could have gotten out of it if I’d lied and claimed I was still swamped at work. I was terrified to admit I had a year of nothing. No impressive awards. No prestigious publications. Okay, that would be…no publications, at all. Several rejections: most indifferent, one downright rude, one moderately encouraging. As of this post, three submissions are pending, so the optimist in me dances around, squealing, “There’s hope.” The pessimist in me growls, “Give it up. You can’t even type, let alone write.”
Indeed, this was the year I nearly called it quits, and I can’t say the thought is not still poking around my head. The fact that I just wrote that sentence is a big 2014 accomplishment, in the nick of time, too. In just a day or so the giant ball will drop in Times Square, and here on the east coast, a new year will be born, fresh-faced and full of dreams, newfound resolve and lofty goals. But, what about last year? Was I as pathetic as I feel? Yes…and no.
I got a job as a writer, creating digital content for an independent TV network, so technically, I’m writing. I’m putting words together that, hopefully, compel people to read and ultimately watch the shows and movies I promote. The copy won’t be seen in the pages of The New Yorker, but the act of writing, in itself, exercises those storytelling muscles, editing, reasoning and creative thinking skills.
As far as fiction goes, it was a year of starts. Once again, I attended the Hub City Writing in Place Conference in July. I love this workshop because you must write. You must create a new piece over the course of the weekend. Yes, it will be rough, and probably crap, but it will be new and ready for revision. The Hub City conference is like a retreat with instruction, social events and wine. And you get to stay on the lovely campus of Wofford College in Spartanburg, SC. So I started a story, and it remains “started.”
Later in the year, one of my friends from the conference found a great Groupon deal for a cabin in Clyde, NC near Asheville, and a group of us who meet at the Hub City conference every year, holed ourselves up for a weekend of writing without any electronic interference. Yes, even cell service was sketchy. We created our own schedule and did timed writing from prompts. Lots of starts, some promising, others “meh,” but again, no finishes.
I would love to say I’m encouraged by these little acts of tossing words together, but many times, I find ways to convince myself nothing will come of these “starts.” That has to change.
I may have told this story here before. Many years ago, I was in an improv workshop and had a conversation with a fellow student about success. I said I didn’t think I was terribly successful in my career, and he replied, it all depends on how you define success. That bit of dialogue pops into my head from time to time, like now. Sometimes success is publication and grand reviews, a mega-buck contract or an esteemed prize. Sometimes it’s scribbling an opening line to a story as you race from one meeting to the next at work. Sometimes it’s reading a great book that inspires you to consider writing in an unconventional format, or simply opens your eyes to new possibilities. Sometimes it’s a lively (and often loud) discussion (dare I say, argument) about punctuation. Yes, that really happened. Sometimes it’s just giving yourself a break. Or maybe, I’m just making excuses and should stop spending so much time on facebook!
Recently, I read a short article on the Brainpickings site: Van Gogh on Principles, Talking vs. Doing, and the Human Pursuit of Greatness. In newly discovered letters to his brother Theo, Vincent Van Gogh commented on artists in Paris who wallowed in misery at their lack of success.
…I think every attempt in [the] direction [of success] is worthy of respect. I also believe that it may happen that one succeeds and one mustn’t begin by despairing; even if one loses here and there, and even if one sometimes feels a sort of decline, the point is nevertheless to revive and have courage, even though things don’t turn out as one first thought.”
So keep at it!
What about next year? If I write 20 words or 20,000 words, I’m going to be happy about it. If they’re crappy words, pretentious words, fluffy words or downright stupid words, I’m going to be happy with them. If I cut myself some slack, don’t toss them in the trash, I could dig around and discover there might be a few gems in the muddle. Find your gems this year. Promise.