Human beings are complex animals living in a complex society. We look for complexity, and strive to develop it despite books and media that tell us to “live more simply” or to “embrace simplicity.” We like to try out the latest thing; we like to find new ways to spend our time, our efforts, our resources. And frankly, I don’t see anything wrong with that to the point that it is an experience you add to your knowledge base. But it’s when we strive to be something we are not that we make life more complicated than it needs to be.
This lesson was brought home to me in a two-fold lesson this weekend. The first half of the lesson was amazing, and bitter-sweet. My wonderful friends the Sister Wives Band (www.sisterwivesband.com) gave me the opportunity to sing on stage with them.
I love singing. It’s been a part of my life almost as long as writing has. I had a great time – such a thrill to be on stage in front of people again – and from accounts I heard, I did a decent job. At least I was on key! I was a nervous wreck when they invited me, and then as I got more comfortable, it was like catching up with an old friend. I picked up where I left off six years ago when I stopped singing with the band at my church. I started thinking about singing again, about finding ways to incorporate music into my life (other than wailing along with the iPod in my car).
Then something dawned on me. I made a choice about six years ago – writing over music. Trying to find time in my life right now to add music would mean either giving up time at work – which just ain’t gonna fly, Wilbur – or it would mean giving up writing time – and I’ve worked too hard to get that back right now to sacrifice it to a hobby. So, as much as I love singing, it will have to be confined to the occasional guest performance, or (ick) karaoke (“Those who can, do. Those who can’t, karaoke.”).
The second half of the lesson came by way of my ex-husband. He suggested I read a particular blog – which I did – where in a mutual acquaintance of ours explains how she has decided that she is a young adult writer. She has one “published” book to her credit – a scathing attack on the LDS church via a woman who chooses to have an affair with her dentist to deal with her failing marriage. She writes a sexually explicit blog under another name, and now – all of a sudden – she must give all that up so that she can appear squeaky clean to her new audience. Of course, she says that she has “always been” a young adult author, which in her mind may be true. But having been in this business for more than 13 years now, I am always leary of those who wake up one day and proclaim themselves “children’s writers” – like they finally figured out that “cat” rhymes with “hat” and now they rival Dr. Suess for genius.
The truth is, we all have our gifts and we all have our desires. Sometimes combining the two is magic, and sometimes it is fate. There are those times, however, when trying to be something you’re not is like forcing a 200 pound man into a size medium pair of sweat pants: you might eventually make it happen, but it isn’t going to be pretty, and it isn’t going to be comfortable.
There are going to be those (the afore mentioned woman being one) saying I’m just jealous and I can’t take the competition. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, I celebrate when friends, former students, and people I went to school with get published. I think good writers should persevere and be published. I’ve even posted messages from students who were formerly in a workshop or class I’ve taught, celebrating their new contracts. I love to see good writers succeed. I’m about as jealous of this woman as I am of the guy who bags my groceries or the dry cleaning attendant. I just believe that proclaiming yourself a writer – any kind of writer – when you have little to no experience is a bit premature.
It’s like waking up one morning and proclaiming yourself a singer. As if American Idol wasn’t evidence enough of the ridiculous belief that this works. And I’m a whole lot nicer in my critiques than Simon ever is.
Someone else may be tempted to say that I don’t believe we can recreate ourselves. Not true. We recreate ourselves constantly. Each new event in our lives changes us. When we marry, have children, change jobs, divorce, move to a new location; all of these things leave a mark on us and change who we are. But just because I got divorced did not mean that who I was at my deepest core changed. In fact, it was who I was at my deepest core that caused me to divorce my first husband. Remaining with him would have been unauthentic.
I recreated myself when I shifted from years in public relations and advertising to becoming a writer, but again, I was being true to my most authentic self when I made that change. Instead of writing things for others, I began writing for me, telling the stories that were in me. My earliest books were middle grade and young adult novels. Okay, I confess, I did try to write picture books at one point – but they are not my voice. I didn’t waste a lot of time on picture books because I can’t write good ones. I leave that to the geniuses who can tell a story in pictures and under 500 words!
Maybe, at some point, I will find the time for singing in my life again. It’s not my priority right now. I have to be true to what I believe is my calling – writing. Down the road that may change, and I may feel compelled to focus on music again, but for now – this is my true self. Everything I do, every choice I make in my life at this point is about my writing. I lost sight of it for a year or so, and that made me crazy. The renewed focus has meant renewed energy, and renewed energy shows that I’m on the right track.
Good writing (or singing, or painting, or whatever it is you do!)