This is a new one for me, looking back at a worn out year behind me and forward to the one ahead at this time of year. I’ve always been so involved with the changes that happen with each school year that late August has always been when I take stock of my cupboards and draw up my list of what is missing and how to go about filling it up again. There have always hopes and dreams for myself in those plans, but they come second to the struggles of being a daughter, mother, wife and chief breadwinner. I’m ordinary in that herd of women who are family-centric.
This year is different. This year I’ve gone through big changes in my driving life forces that have brought me out of someone else’s time frame and into my own. This is my time, and busting through to claim my time as my own has not been easy. Like most women with children and needy parents, cutting loose can be very much like being a puppet with cut strings.
One limb at a time, you fall to the floor, then you stay there developing muscle to stand back up on your own, on the stage you’ve been building in your mind for a very long time. There can be long periods of time when the effort seems too much. But you either lay on the stage of your making as a lifeless carving, or you do the work and stand.
Once on my feet with head centered between the shoulders, I looked around and saw chaos. Instead of picking up where I left off as the writer I once was, I found myself in a house of mirrors inside a carnival in a nightmare Stephen King might have. Indie publishing was at war with legacy publishing, and within the indie world there were battles being fought over how it’s done (gurus, gurus, gurus everywhere), and the impenetrable world of screenwriting had more rules and regs than a military boot camp. WTF?
I thought writing was about telling stories we pulled from Thoreau’s oversoul or Jung’s collective unconscious. We were hard-wired for storytelling and had a priori knowledge of how to tell them in some ethereal part of our minds, whatever a mind is and wherever it resides. I’d been taught, years ago, that to be a writer meant first serving an apprenticeship of writing a million words, burning them, then moving on to the next phase of reading in equal parts of writing to refine sensibilities and craft and stop that stink from coming off one’s work.
That wasn’t what I found. Not even close. Everybody and their uncle’s monkey had a copy of the latest how-to book in their back pocket and a paper crown of gold they’d gotten from Burger King, with the word “Author” tacked to the back of their names. Without hyperbole, I read nearly a thousand books and felt the majority take a bite out of me and chew it to dust. This was the new landscape of lit-ra-chure? This was what I was to write if I was going to be a writer? This wasn’t the literature I’d left behind.
To be fair, all those how-to books were needed and a blessing. For the first time, those who had harbored a secret desire to write now had the chance, but not the clues. The rise of social media and those whose focus was watching and taming it were overwhelmingly decent people with a strong desire to help others achieve their dreams. But let’s be honest. We’re all children at heart who want what we want when we want it, and when that marshmallow is set in front of us, we take it. The new world of writing and the playground it was pounded on was a mess of marshmallow fluff, and all the good teachers and coaches cried in private, the distant sound of buttons clicking and publishing half-baked books tapping the back of their heads like marshmallows shot from a sling.
Add to this mess the change in contemporary reading habits and tastes, and I was in the mass of those without a clue.
Man, that was messed up. My inner drive had no map.
This is a good place for me to say I don’t believe in goals. If setting goals were the key to getting where I wanted to go, there’d be one book on how to do it with some loosey-goosey guidelines on how to organize the goals, and that would be the end of the story. That’s not the case. But…but…but goals have worked so well for so many, how can I say such a thing? Easy. I have always known that we run on driving life forces, and any success with goals happens when those goals, accidentally or consciously, dovetail with the life forces that drive us. The majority of us have no clue what our driving life forces; they’re big and scary and they hide in sooty dark places. They’re hard to feed because they have teeth that bite and make life uncomfortable. We’ve been taught to keep away from drilling down inside ourselves to find them because it is not safe. You might even find your own darkness down there and be forever damaged. Stick with goals. They float on rafts filled with people who have failed over and over again. You’ll always know where you belong and never be alone if you keep setting goals and fail.
A driving life force is something that you set and forget. The unthinking mind takes over and organizes the path towards the end goal. It’s like walking into an enormous disaster in the kitchen after a holiday meal. When I was very young, I’d walk in and think, “I can’t do it. This is the mess I can’t clean up.” With time I learned to just attack it without thought and let the “executive” part of my brain (right behind the forehead) do its job. I thought of everything and anything but the mess at hand, and without fail, everything was cleaned up, leftovers organized, the refrigerator and cupboards straightened and nothing left behind but the satisfaction of a job well done with speed. Had I not learned to stop thinking, I’d still be in that same kitchen I had 30 years ago and crying over where to start cleaning the mess that could not be cleaned.
The year behind me, without any conscious goals, brought the end of the road of two major driving forces in my life. Successfully. Each time I opened my mouth or made a decision, something other than my thinking mind guided my words and actions. (Insert fist pump here.) There is nothing more satisfying than watching your own efforts build your dreams and keep them afloat. Nothing.
If only I’d been smart enough to stop thinking so damned much, I could have picked up on my writing sooner than I did. Didn’t happen. I got stupid and started thinking, thinking, thinking and letting nasty remarks from people I didn’t even respect push me deeper into thinking, thinking, thinking.
Buckling with mental fatigue, early in 2014 I was ready to quit. I’d had some success, published a bit, but was bitterly disappointed that it wasn’t the grunting, sweating hard work endured for years that seemed to be leading the way. A common description of the literary landscape at the time was “A tsunami of crap.” I’d spent a lot of years successfully ending the journeys of my primary driving life forces, while holding back on my person Big One for so long, and I was ready to rock ‘n roll my own road…but not on the messy road it had become. My mind was on the holiday feast of easy money and book sales I’d been reading about and not my own driving force to be the writer I wanted to be, whether that lead to fame and riches or obscurity and food stamps.
As 2014 starting winding down, there was a grumbling in the land. October, to be specific. Authors, authors, authors everywhere watched their sales plummet for reasons they couldn’t understand. Kindle Unlimited launched and income fell even more for most. There was much beating of breasts, gnashing of teeth, and the ding-dong of the dooms day bells ringing. But why?
Go ahead, take a guess. Have fun with that game because your guess is as good as anybody else, and it vents frustration volleying those guesses around on the ground that was once the playground of books.
I’ll confess I was playing that game and having a good time in hopes of winning something from the marshmallow mess, until I heard some magical words. Over and over I played a portion of a Creative Penn podcast where the word “apprenticeship” was spoken, along with the words “career” and “hard work.” My pesky thinking mind shut down; the driving life force took over.
And then came Kristine Rusch’s blog post. Big ouchie to be found there if you’d been riding the gravy train and found you were now stained with bruised from the ride.
And then Russell Blake.
Blog posts and articles all over the place proclaiming 2015 the year when the bar is raised and quality will strut its stuff.
The targets of each portion of this driving life’s journey will be mapped out by the GPS of my driving life force. I ain’t sweatin’ a thing because:
This is it, kids. The game’s for real. There will still be plenty of us writing foot-off-the-cliff serialized books that do well on Kindle Unlimited, and very naughty shorts of fifteen pages or less for naughty readers (that covers just about everyone, doesn’t it?) cycle through on subscription plans, but even within those ranks the competition will be tough. You’ll have to write better to keep an audience. And the door will always be open for those who write from the heart and publish with the purpose of touching other hearts, helping them rise out of a mucked-up mess. We can all be grateful for those writers and the impossible high bar they’ve set of courage and compassion.
Whatever path we take or niche we fill, there’s just no way around it: All of us have to write gooderer.
Are you in?
I hope so.
Whether you’re in as a professional career writer, a hobbyist, a helping hand with your words, or making a quiet exit for another creative endeavor, the wish remains the same:
A HAPPY NEW YEAR
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As always, a great big Thank You! to Dreamstime Photos
Hand Holding Weight: © Liette Parent | Dreamstime Stock Photos
Calculator And Papers: © Diamant24 | Dreamstime.com – Target, Calculator, Pen, Notebook,
Glasses – Setting Goals Photo
Woman Driving Behind Wheel: © Simba3003 | Dreamstime.com – Dangerous Beauty Woman Driving A Car, Close Up Portrait