As you guys know, this last weekend I was attending a seminar here in town. One of the presentations (which I’d got to audit last year and already knew was great) was James Owen’s Drawing Out the Dragons – go look look, for the book and/or CD which I understand is a close approximation to being there in person.
I think it’s great and inspirational and I wish I’d got it thirty years ago, when we didn’t have dependents (other than the cats) and when – frankly – we were afraid of our own breath which is why I’d write novels and spend years not sending them out. (Okay, we also didn’t have money for postage, but we could have sold something. (Not one of the cats, though. No one would buy them.)) If you’re relatively young (younger than I) you definitely want to buy the book/CD and go through it. It might be the kick in the pants you need.
Keep in mind, though, that you’re not him. Take a sane and rational assessment of your drive, your qualifications and your need to do whatever you really want to do (writing, cooking, painting or playing piano) instead of what you’re doing.
I am aware of my own limitations and my own internal issues. Just listening to this doesn’t turn me into J. K. Rowling – by which I don’t mean the writing itself (yes, she is a good writer, but she also hit at the right time, in the right place, and I might be as good as she was and as lucky as she was at some point.) I mean that if I were a single mother, on public assistance, even if I weren’t so poor that I couldn’t afford heating, the paranoid side of my brain would lock the writing down absolutely tight, and I’d be getting a minimum wage job, just to bring in some money and set my foot on a ladder. I know I have the crazy paranoid person inside my head who spends most of her time locking my writing down tight (which is why I hate being on contract. As deadline approaches, and then after the deadline passes which is worse, I spend more time being paranoid than writing. – After I deliver these two contracts, I’m going to try to send Baen a book every six months, on spec, so I don’t have to be under contract, which is a serious psychological problem.)
Okay – let me backtrack – James Owen’s presentation is about having the courage to let go of your stupid, go-nowhere “safe career” to do what you really want to do. He says, right at the beginning “If you want to do something, no one can stop you from it. If you don’t want to do it, no one can help you.”
You should listen to it, and consider his point, but you should also consider who you are. For instance, I wish I’d listened to this 20 years ago, so I’d have had the focus to work without the near death experience, and even more importantly, to have more focus for the last twenty or thirty years.
Near death experience?
We were talking about this session – my husband and I – and we went back to the fact that part of the effect of the presentation was achieved for me when I was 33 and I found myself on my back, in an hospital bed, with pneumonia, and thinking I was going to die. Or rather the doctors thought so.
I had a kid who was 5 and one who was a year and a half, and I thought I was going to die. There was the usual issue when you have children that age. I worried about my husband and my children, of course; I worried about who would look after my kids when Dan was working.
But what surprised me – shocked me to the core – is that I was guilty and worried about the books I’d never written.
Now, yes, I’ll probably die with books unwritten, but all of my worlds were dying with me. One of the worlds was one I had had since I was fourteen – and when I died all of those characters would also die. (Part of the conversation this morning is that this world will have to be written. And those of you who know exactly what I’m talking about, yes, what I mean is that world, and yes, it will be a pen name. Closed. But wouldn’t it be hilarious if that is the series that takes off. It will be written, as time permits. It will have to be published indie. This is for my own conscience. The rest is not important.)
When I actually recovered (and that’s a story in itself and not here) and went home, even before the year of recovery passed and I was fully recovered, changes were made. That illness is part of the reason my children went to kindergarten and later to public school – so mommy had writing time. They were still getting taught at home after school. And yes, if I had the time again, I’d homeschool and write while the kids were working. When forced I found out later on that I could do that. But that’s besides the point.
I’d been writing before I almost died. In fact, I had been part of a writing group, and I thought I was serious about my writing. But in fact, I only sent a short story out a year or so, and though I was working on my writing everything else took priority.
After I came out of the hospital, even in my lowest-fiction-writing year (aka 2013), I’ve never written fewer than two novels and several short stories a year, and I sent them out, and I started seriously applying my time and effort to getting things published.
Because if I went back to the hospital, I didn’t want to be lying there and knowing there were worlds that lived only in my head and were dying with me. I didn’t want that guilt.
That alone was enough to seriously focus me, though I had distractions – still do – and last year I got sucked into a whirlpool called non-fiction writing and consecutive illnesses, and finally had to step back, take a hard look and realize I couldn’t go on with that and is it what I really wanted to do? (Yes, I’ll still be writing for PJM, but we’ve arranged things differently, and I’ll be writing less and have only one deadline for four posts a month.)
That is what a near fatal illness will cause you to do. And I think it’s possible that Drawing Out Dragons will perhaps give you the same drive, the same focus (or close enough) without a near fatal illness. (I get no portion of these sales, so if you can sit down and do this calculation yourself, do it.)
But think about it. If you find yourself in bed, dying tomorrow, what would weigh on your conscience?
If you find yourself regretting that you spent so much time writing and so little playing with your kids or holding hands with your spouse, for the love of G-d, stop writing now and go do that stuff.
No. Wait let me explain. You’ll always feel a certain regret on those things. When I get to take a walk with my husband, and spend the whole afternoon just the two of us, I treasure those days – or weekends. Yes, the canoodling ones – and would like to do a lot more it. And the other day I found myself crying into a box of pictures of the kids when they were little, because you can never hug them or play with them enough. (They’re wonderful kids now, but they’re really not kids anymore, since both are legal adults and the older is the age I got married at. I miss my littles. And no, I didn’t hug them enough.) But this is the stuff you never do “enough.”
The question is do you regret that MORE than you regret not having published those worlds that have haunted you since the age of six? If so, just go and play with your kids now, and devote ten years being a mom/dad or wife/husband. Later, when the kids move out, revisit this question.
On the other hand, if, as with me, you feel bad about the times not taken to cuddle the kids, but what you REALLY mind is all those worlds – find a way to be serious about writing.
No, seriously. Find a way. Remember who you are. Quitting your job might only make you neurotic and lock down your writing. So you might want to keep a job, keep a safety net, whatever. And yeah, you might still want to take time to spend with the kids and the husband – but put in two hours a day (say) hard and fast so you can write. Or whatever it is you really want to do.
Because few of us (ah!) come back from their death beds. And you might not have a second chance. And waiting for the miracle when everything is perfect for your great work, just means it will never get done.