Winter’s Depth

“In the depth of winter I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer.”  ~Albert Camus, Lyrical and Critical Essays

This post is a little bit reflective … a little bit writerly … but mostly, it’s about what it means to be human and to love and laugh and cry. So, read it anyway and just maybe you’ll come away with something you needed to hear today.

Life is so painfully short.

You already know this. Even in reading those words, your eyes probably scanned over them in the same way you glance at the date on your calendar—just long enough to register what they are. But, per usual, I want you to stop and think about that for a moment.

Life is so painfully short.

We are so often inconvenienced by the small things. The chill in the air. The discomfort in your rear end during the extra five minutes spent by the side of a sick friend with whom you’ve already kept company for far too long. The destination that’s out of the way and then some. Throwing that tennis ball for the dog one more time. Writing that love letter. We have ‘things’ to do. We have agendas to keep, people to please and scenes to pen. We are busy … so so busy. Consumed even.

We are also speeding through a life that’s only being halfway lived.

I’ve been accused of saying “I love you” too often. Hugging too much. But, a very long time ago I learned that if we will only look closer, there is a gift in each and every moment we are given in this world. And more often than not, that gift is easily overlooked as we search and pine for bigger things. We set lofty goals, but forget that along the way, are all of the things that make reaching our goal so wonderful. Yeah, you’ve heard that it’s the journey … we all have. Yet, there is a huge difference in knowing that and applying it to your everyday life. It’s the same sort of warm and fuzzy moment after a good Sunday sermon or a tear-jerking movie. You know, that hour and a half where everything is suddenly more meaningful. It fades because, like most things in our fast food world, it isn’t truly absorbed.

When it comes to your writing, however, and your life, let me assure you that if you don’t slow down and savor these small things … there will come a time when you regret that choice. A moment will slip past you that you didn’t even know to hope for. A detail. A kiss. A hug. A sigh. A whispered declaration of something seemingly simple. In that lost moment, could very well be the beginning of a much larger dream you’ve been pining over for years. Had you only stopped to breathe it in, you might have caught it and hung on.

We are all so richly blessed. I say this in the midst of a parent fighting cancer, and the tail end of a painful divorce. So, don’t think this a trite bit of pithy advice. Through this years’ trials, I’ve come to further appreciate the unbelievable gifts in my life—the people who have made that life worth living. Worth continuing. I’ve never been more grateful to have resisted some of the darker thoughts that I courted these last few years. Sure, I could have avoided the pain and the lessons learned the hard way. But, my God, what I would be missing out on now.

My mistakes are countless. I’ve hurt others and then sacrificed my pride in owning those actions and the pain they caused. For that reason also, I am ‘aware’ of every day I get to live. I have more than I deserve. More than I could ever rightfully ask for. And I want nothing more than for everyone else who I have the pleasure of knowing, even virtually speaking, to be given the same kind of gratitude for the trivial. It will change your writing. It will change your life and those who have the honor of living it alongside you. Don’t let the day end without telling those you love, that you love them. Be inconvenienced. Be uncomfortable. Be silent. Touch. Whisper. Breathe.

Allow the depth of winter to show you all that it has to offer … and be everything you were intended to become in this life.

Passport Please

“There is nothing more dreadful than the habit of doubt. Doubt separates people. It is a poison that disintegrates friendships and breaks up pleasant relations. It is a thorn that irritates and hurts; it is a sword that kills.” ~Buddha

Ever have one of those days where you feel like any average exposition class, in any average college classroom in the world could take your novel and use it as an example of how NOT to write fiction?

Yeah … me too.

You read other people’s work and you marvel at their adept prose, their adroit pacing, and their irreproachable characterization. Their adjectives are just the right adjectives. The amount of description they’ve coupled with just the right bit of telling, has you salivating. It has you wondering how you could possibly have ever picked up a pencil (because surely that’s where this misguided calling to be an author started, right?). It has you doubting, with no wounded hands to pick at in your search for hope that what you suspect about yourself is wrong.

And all the blogs you read confirm it. Ten Ways to Plot A Bestselling Novel. You hadn’t thought of a single one of them. Why Your Scene isn’t Really a Scene. And your scene apparently isn’t a scene. Does Your Protagonist Suck … if so Here’s Why. He meets three out of five characteristics for a totally unlikable protagonist. Five Ways To Spice up Your Dreary Ending. Didn’t even know the ending was dreary till now, thank you. Nine Ways to Drop  Your Adverb Habit. Terribly true …

You read all those ubiquitous, helpful, posts … the ones that are followed by nine thousand nine hundred and ninety-nine comments (that have been featured as Fresh Pressed on WordPress AND by Nathan Bransford himself) … and you feel humbled. No, not humbled. Down-trodden. If you drank, you’d head for the whiskey. If you smoked, you’d have a head-start on half-a-pack for the day. If you gambled, you’d bet yourself right out of a career.

Here’s the thing … those posts, and those books on writing that read more like technical manuals, and all those guest speakers (the ones who tell you that without an agent you’re nothing), they can’t tell you what makes your fiction totally unique and therefore, worthwhile. Do you want to know why?

Because they don’t know.

That’s why I usually refrain from posting specific advice on writing. I could, I’ve got loads of it. But, I can’t account for the subtleties of your individual creativity and style. I can’t just tell you to add some tension to your last scene, without having read your last scene. I can’t tell you to just amp up your pacing, without knowing the rhythm of your novel. I can’t tell you any of these things with any sense of reliability because in some cases, I’d simply be wrong.

But, as writers … especially when we’re feeling that oh-so-familiar downtrodden pseudo-depression, we seek consolation in rules and tips. We want to know that we can get better if we just know where to put our right foot first. We want direction. We want guidelines. We want assurances.

In brave writing … there are no assurances.

Everyone in your critique group can whittle away at your manuscript till it’s a different novel altogether than the one that got rejected 34 times, and yet … when it’s sent out again it can still get rejected. Multiple times. And probably will be. But, we do these sorts of things because we want to share the burden. If you get rejected on your work alone, then you can think to yourself, “God, I must suck at this.” But, if you let a group (and this can be agents’ blogs too) tell you how and what to write, and that work gets rejected, then, “It’s OK because isn’t me or my writing. It’s the market.”

We do that, because our doubt is often stronger than anything else we’re feeling. This isn’t always the case, but when we feel it … we feel it.

In this world we live in as authors, we’ll have more than a handful of ‘guided tours’ available to us. But the fear doesn’t completely go away even when you sign up for one of them instead of the solo trek. All I can tell you with any measure of certainty is that the solo trek, while positively the scariest way to go, is the most  beautiful. It’s terrifying because at the threshold, you’re not just handing over your passport to be stamped, you’re trading it in for citizenship. You’re making a decision that will mean, there is no going back.

That’s not to say that you have to travel alone. I’m not guiding anyone anywhere. As a creativity coach, I’m damn good at motivating others to keep on, to keep exploring. But that’s not the same thing as a guide. And perhaps that’s the biggest difference: We’re all traveling together, my footsteps just as unsure as yours are. I find comfort in this. More so than having to stand behind a huge crowd and listen to some schmuck ramble on for hours about the local vegetation.

But, there are no assurances. I chose to take that chance and while it looks appealing from where I stand and eavesdrop (read those posts like gospel) … looking at that group of tourists all taking pictures of whatever the hell that spikey thing is … I wouldn’t be any more confident over there than I am here. And right now, for me, is one of those moments where I’m sliding on pebbles and having to stop every five minutes to empty shit out of my shoes. It’s OK though, because you’re with me.

And because I have no choice, but, for it to be OK. I’ve handed over my passport.