Monday, January 18, 2016

Learning to Embrace the Story

For the last couple of years, I've seen a trend on social media. Come January, people start posting their "word" for the year. Something that speaks to them, to what they want out of the shiny, clean slate that is a brand new calendar. A word of encouragement; one that points toward a goal. A hope. An area of growth.

I like this idea. But then again, I'm a fan of words in general.

After pondering for a couple of weeks, I think I've landed on my 2016 word of the year...

Embrace.

            em•brace  verb
            1. to accept (something or someone) readily or gladly
            2. to use (an opportunity) eagerly

I especially love how this word applies to both my life in general...

Embrace the messy house. I have two children. And a life. Mess comes with the territory.
Embrace simplicity. Contentment is the new black.
Embrace the present. There are memories to be made now. The future can wait its turn.

...and to my writing career...

Embrace the wait. The perfect thing later is a lot better than the wrong thing now. 
Embrace the rejections. That agent/editor/publisher wasn't the right one. But the next one could be.
Embrace who I am as an author. Focus on sharing a story, not selling a book.

That last one is the hardest (at least for me). I think one of the most sought after - and most feared - words in the writing world is "marketable." If you're a writer you've probably heard people say, "Don't write for the market! Write the story only you can tell!" And if you've ever been told that your book is lovely but not marketable enough, you've probably felt the strong desire to pummel those people with the largest, heaviest book you can get your hands on. (I keep a nice, fat hardcover copy of War and Peace in my living room for just such occasions.) 

(Just Kidding.) 


(Or am I?)

I realized recently, as I've been exploring ideas for new writing projects and revisiting old ones, that I've been trying to shove myself into the elusive box of marketability. And it's sapped a lot of the joy I once felt at the prospect of putting new words on paper. It's a difficult balance, wanting to write the story that brings you joy, but also wanting it to bring you an agent and a book deal. And while I think writing with the awareness of what makes a book marketable is a good thing, writing solely with the intention of creating a sellable story is a recipe for disaster. Writing is like cooking: the secret spice is love. It's the difference between a bland TV dinner and a spicy home cooked meal. It's the difference between a good book and a great one. 

To gain your own voice, you have to forget about having it heard.”
—Allen Ginsberg

That's not to say that the story you're passionate about comes easy. Even things you love can make you want to pull your hair out (every mother in the world knows this). But it's worth every single edit. Every single rewrite. Every single moment of questioning your sanity.

I read a story this week, after the passing of Alan Rickman, that really drove this point home for me. Evanna Lynch, who played Luna Lovegood in the Harry Potter films, shared a story on her Facebook page of an interaction she had with Alan at a charity dinner a few years after the filming of the HP movies. At the time, Evanna says, she "was stressing about the pressure I felt to already be a successful actress and that I'd run out of time to make mistakes." Then she goes on to share Alan's advice...

"As an actress, already having to lie about my age at 24, it seems mad that Alan only found his vocation and began his acting journey at 26 and turned out to be…Alan Rickman. But when I told him that I was worried if I didn't figure myself out quickly I would miss the most important opportunities and never get them back, he simply told me that I was focusing on the wrong thing. He said not to worry about getting 'there' and instead to focus on feeding my soul and following my heart from place to place."

As I move into this new year, I want to embrace the stories that are tugging at my heart. The ones I can't stop thinking about. The ones that bring a smile to my face and make me eager to take up my pen again...and again...and again...even when it's hard. 

Because after all, those stories are the reason why I started writing in the first place. 

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