Thursday, February 12, 2009

Same Song...New Verse?

For those of you who remember such things, or who pay attention to archives, I’ve mulled over the subject of this entry before...

Only this time, the focus is slightly different, and more personal.

In order not to spill beans I ought not to, I won’t go into too many specifics about the precipitating factors contributing to my present restlessness at my “day gig” desk. Suffice to say that a recent evaluation of my talents and contributions did not yield results I hoped for…and it has made me rethink a lot. It has made me question, not for the first time, whether I’ve been on a path God wanted me to take or am going in the wrong direction.

I’ve come to an interesting hybrid conclusion: the answer is…both.

I say this because, now that the suspense of wondering, “Will they—won’t they?” is over, and I know that where I stand now is about where I was afraid I’d be standing at this point…that it's time to face the fact that I may well have outgrown what is open for me to do here.

It was inevitable: if there’s one common element behind every job-departure I take, it’s boredom. I simply end up being unable to bear an unending future of the same. And that disheartening feeling is happening more and more to me in this particular landscape—and I’m not talking about the rolling plains of Indiana, either.

Unfortunately, on one hand, it’s where I’ll be standing for some time yet to come.

Fortunately, on the other hand, I may not be standing here for an unending future.

Suddenly, as if a dam has broken, the manner in which I’ve been toiling for the last four (plus!) years has started to pay unexpected dividends. After much, much time and effort invested in building the foundation of the beginnings of a true freelance career…it’s finally starting to take off for me.

Due, in no small part, to the immense boost in my abilities and—more importantly—self-confidence that has been engendered by my being here.

In other words…I’m in that delightful position at the moment where, for the first time, people are beginning to seek me out for freelance work. Potential clients are beginning to come to me and say, “We’re impressed with what we’ve seen so far; do you think you’d be a good match for us?”

And I cannot help but believe that I wouldn’t have this great potential beginning happening now if I didn’t take that leap of faith into said Indiana plains then.

So, as one memorable soul put it at ACFW a couple of years back, “It’s all good.”
It’s both…and.

Doesn’t that have a great ring to it?

To me, it has the ring of dreams about to come true.



Thursday, February 05, 2009

Waiting For "The Big Break": Is 40 Years Too Long?

Yeah, yanno…well, there’s patience, and then there’s patience. If you don’t know the difference between those two words, you probably haven’t been a writer very long. (!)
We send out a query…and we wait.
We send out a partial…and we wait.
We send out full manuscripts…and we wait.
We send out short stories…
Or workshop proposals…
Or grant applications…
Or resumes for good plum writing jobs…
…and we wait.

Of course, some of us don’t have to wait quite as long anymore, with the advent of electronic submissions and the speed of response that comes along with them.
The good news is, well, that the good news can get to you faster. Submissions of queries, partials, fulls, and editorial decisions, when they go well, can result in books produced at a pace that feels like the speed of light.
The bad news is, those rejects hit our e-mail boxes a lot faster, too. You can literally submit now and get rejected within 24 hours…or less. I know. I have.

But as familiar a tradition as The Long Wait is for most of us in the writing biz, I’m thinking today in terms of a different kind of patience entirely.

Today is the 60th birthday of a colleague at work. That, combined with the sudden, shocking death of another former colleague at a mere 50, got me thinking.

I’m going to be 57 years old in August.
I submitted my first piece of writing to a contest when I was 17.
So, in one form or another, I’ve been considering myself an “up and coming” writer for going on 40 years.

Forty years.
I’m thinking maybe the “up and coming” label doesn’t fit anymore.

It’s hard to surrender to the plain fact that I’m no longer 17. I can look and act younger…and I do. (We’re not talking maturity levels here.That’s a whole other dish of tabasco sauce. Just sayin’.) But it is hard to realize that, at this point in my life, there may be things I’ll never do.
One of those may be Getting The Big Break.
And that’s a sobering thought.

If I get to the end of my life, whenever it comes, and I haven’t sold another book…or resold the rights to the first one…
…haven’t achieved entry into any of my target publishers…
…haven’t gotten any closer to it than I am now…
Then what?
Will my life have failed on some fundamental level?

At what, then, will I point to with pride and say, “No. No failure here”?

After all, I haven’t spent every waking minute of those ensuing 39-1/2 years writing. I’ve spent a lot of it yelling at athletic events (!)…or singing…or caring for people—and animals!—who needed taking care of. Not to mention the usual shopping, cooking, cleaning, washing, drying, dusting, polishing, mowing, digging, weeding, praying…etc.

That being said, I have probably written easily a million, if not several million, words by now. Stories that have improved over the years, material in an amount that’s probably pretty impressive when sandwiched around all the aforementioned “life happening when you were making other plans” kind of stuff.

But I do wonder now at what point “hanging in there” and “getting better” and “staying at it” and “persevering” become foolishness. When almost 40 years of “waiting for the big break” becomes not proof of your dedication, but a sad joke—pacing a lifetime widow’s walk, scanning the horizon for a ship that will never come in.

Is there a point at which one needs to stop hoping and assuming it will come eventually—a point at which The Big Break has already passed one by, looking for a younger, more energetic or more “hip” aspirant to favor instead? Is a gray-haired middle-aged woman even eligible for The Big Break anymore?

I can’t help wondering.