I’m going to be published in the New York Times. At least, that’s what I’m telling myself as I finish off a submission piece for their Solver Stories feature. I like to dream big. And why not? I have a story I believe fits their mission.
I know the odds are small. I know there are plenty of other writers, with writing credentials superior to mine, also creating pieces. The sting and self-doubt surrounding a possible rejection are a real part of the writing life. It’s not something I enjoy experiencing.
With each passed over narrative, with each thanks-but-no-thanks, with each decline in Submittable, my soul darkens a bit. I chastise myself for not being good enough. The insecure little voice inside grows larger, its whispers of ridicule growing bolder.
Not writing my story, however, is guaranteed failure, a self-rejection. I refuse to let fear and doubt steal my opportunities. If my goal is to be published in the New York Times, then I best go about submitting to the New York Times. Sitting here on my couch, lap desk across my lap, unsupportive cat by my side, just wishing for good things to happen isn’t going to get me very far.
I’ll do my best to weave heart and enlightenment into my tale. I’ll proofread my narrative. I’ll do my due diligence and have a few trusted friends read my piece and offer suggestions. Then I’ll hit submit with hopes and dreams fluttering in my gut.
Because I’m going to be published in the New York Times, some day.
As I work towards finishing my first draft of a full novel, I’ve been thinking about what happens next, beyond the editing and revisions, the submissions and rejections. Will my creation ever see the light of day? If it does, will anyone enjoy it? Will I make any money off my time and hard work?
I’ll bet most future authors have similar concerns and worries.
And yet, as I sat down to write this morning, with all these thoughts tumbling around in my brain, I couldn’t help but be grateful for the wonderful benefits I’ve already encountered while still in the process of creating this piece.
My youngest son never enjoyed writing. He would complain with every school assignment that required more than a minimal written response. Ever since I began my writing journey a little more than a year ago, he has thrown himself into his school writing with enthusiasm and dedication. There is no more whining when he is working on a long narrative piece. Instead, he shares his ideas with me and then asks how many pages I have written on my piece.
At the beginning of my writing journey, I wrote in isolation. I started writing my novel piece while at home during the height of Covid stay at home orders. I didn’t have a writing community, as I was new to writing. Over the past seven months, I’ve connected with a wide group of writers and creators. I’m currently getting ready to spend a weekend writing with a few of these fabulous and supportive fellow moms-who-write. They are my people. Having a group of peers and cheerleaders in my corner has been the highlight of my writing days.
I’ve encountered an outlet for my busy mind that I never had before. Writing has given me both a sense of peace and a purpose. It has become both my hobby and identity, something beyond wife and mother.
So, while my worries will never go away, I can take solace in the way my life has already been enriched throughout this process. Even if my final work is a commercial failure, I’ve already won so much just traveling down this path.
Success doesn’t have to mean fame and fortune, it can be an enrichment in our daily life. I’ll try to keep this in mind as I move on to the next phase of my writing journey. I hope you do too.
I bought myself a little gift to celebrate my year of writing. After having seven accepted articles for Her View From Home, as well as my first piece published with Chicken Soup for the Soul, I finally felt worthy of this t-shirt. I could have bought it after my very first article, but yet again, here’s an example of how our expectations can drive us to be our own harshest critics.
Seven published articles was a totally arbitrary number. Why not four? Why not ten? Nowhere on the purchase page did it say, “this piece of fabric is reserved for writers who have written a predetermined number of articles.” The product description did not say, “for successful writers with more than two-thousand shares.”
Here was a product available for anyone to purchase, I was the one placing the limits on myself. I was the one saying, “I’m only worthy of this when I achieve this level of success.”
You don’t need a certain measure of success to be worthy of celebrating your accomplishments. If you put in the work, celebrate. You don’t need anyone’s approval to feel good about your journey. You don’t need to compare your achievement to those of your peers to justify your place in this world.
How have you been holding yourself back? What worries have kept you from enjoying your accomplishments? What narratives of success have you bought into?
I may not be good at tempering my insecurities and feelings of inadequacies yet, but acknowledging them is the first step. So, I will wear my new shirt with pride. When people ask what I’m doing now, I will say, without qualification, that I am a writer and an author. I will take pride in this new path I am on, regardless of where it leads.
I’m sorry for your loss. Ed meant the world to everyone he met. I’ll miss seeing the two of you on your morning walks together. I’m sure you will find comfort in your many memories over the past 43 years together.
I still remember the first night I met Ed. It was at the block party right after I moved in sixteen years ago. He was so kind to introduce himself to the lonely, divorced, middle-aged mom of three. From that night on, I felt a part of this community.
But what I’ll miss the most is the way he kissed me in bed after you left for work. I’ll miss the smell of him on my pillows. I’ll miss the little gifts he would send; the flowers, my favorite coffee, the panties.
I’m sorry his last words were to me in your bed. At least he died happy.
I’ve had this giant box of socks sitting, waiting, and hoping to find their mates. I thought they could be the trigger for an inspirational post about the secret to life. Maybe they could be a piece on finding our zen in a chaotic life, or possibly a how-to-bond with your children and organize your home in 27 pairs of socks post.
Nope. They just sat, collecting more friends, while I wondered what my children could be wearing on their feet at this point.
This post has no advice, no magic tricks, no encouraging words.
This post will not be life-changing.
And maybe that’s as it should be. Sometimes life isn’t a box of chocolates, sometimes it’s just abandoned socks with no greater purpose.
I’m ok with that.
Getting through the everyday monotony of life can be enough at times. And yes, we will lose both socks and sanity along the way. We will leave a trail of forgotten moments and forgotten footwear. We will long for resolution and just one found mate.
Life goes on and we must go along for the ride. Just as I hold on to these abandoned socks with the hope of one day finding their match, we should hold on to the hope we find little surprises and comforts in the small pockets of our days.
So maybe there’s a little advice and encouragement, but I’m still stuck with 27 random socks at the end of the day.
I recently went through a bit of a crisis of confidence and motivation. A couple of weeks ago I was fortunate enough to attend a writing workshop through a wonderful organization. I did not expect to be selected when I submitted my writing sample months ago and was pleasantly surprised to be accepted.
After attending the first day I felt woefully unprepared and like a fish out of water. As the only person without some sort of background in writing, I was convinced that my place in the group was a great mistake. I didn’t know enough. I wasn’t talented enough. I looked around at all these other writers/authors doing amazing things with legitimate backgrounds and pedigree. They had aptitude and ability to create fabulous works of fiction. I was just a middle-aged, stay-at-home mom chasing a dream.
No one made me feel this way. My cohort was fantastic. Our teacher, a published author and university professor, was encouraging and engaging. I learned so much from our interactions, writing exercises and constructive feedback. The anxious feeling of not being enough was my doing alone.
I’ve taken the time to process my feelings over the past weeks and have come to the conclusion I can give up or do better. I refuse to give up. Just because I don’t have all the knowledge needed to do my story justice right now doesn’t mean I can’t continue to learn and acquire the skills needed. I didn’t get discouraged and give up the first time I played volleyball because I wasn’t a phenomenal player, I practiced and attended camps and clubs. I didn’t quit college the first time I had difficulty in a class, I studied more and consulted peers who could help me. I didn’t quit working the first time I had a challenging client, I sought out continuing education courses to learn new techniques. I have to accept I’m still at the beginning of my journey and get over the fear of not being perfect.
Just this morning I listened to a podcast, Fiction Writing Made Easy by Savannah Gilbo. This specific episode was titled, The #1 Reason Why So Many Novels Go Unpublished, and it was the right thing I needed to hear at the right time. The number one reason novels go unpublished is the authors become frustrated that the first draft isn’t great and give up. They get stuck in the “messy middle” and compare that place with finished and polished works. They then believe they don’t have the ability to write a good book. Instead of this defeated and hopeless, not to mention, useless frame of mind, we need a shift in our mindset. One specific quote from the podcast caught my attention, “trying to write a perfect draft or even a good draft is an impossible task.” I knew this, I even wrote a post about us as humans being a first draft on my aptly named blog, firstdraft.blog. “A first draft is a place to spill out ideas without the need to worry about the final product. It is a place to be creative, it is a place to make mistakes, it’s a place to explore. A first draft is messy and painful, but there can be no final product without going through the growing pains of a first draft.” I knew this on the surface, but did not yet fully understand and embrace this in my writing journey.
So I choose to do better. I choose to continue to learn and practice and seek peer input to improve my writing. I choose to persevere and produce the best product I am capable of. I choose to work through the growing pains and doubt.
The flowered apron had been handed down along with the family recipe book for generations. Catherine flipped through the pages as one would a photo album. Instead of seeing the faces of the matriarchs that had come before, she could recreate in her mind special occasions with the smell of corn pudding, the flavors of homemade red sauce and the feel of hands kneading potica dough.
She pulled the apron over her head and tied the strings behind her. The preheating oven spread its warmth throughout the bright white kitchen. Catherine was partial to baking over cooking. To her, baking was love. Love in the form of a birthday cake for her child. There was nothing wrong with store bought or boxed cake, but she needed to feel a connection to her creation.
Catherine measured and poured and cracked the eggs, wiping her hands on great-grandma’s apron as she went. The best part was the chocolate ganache frosting. Such a simple recipe, chocolate and cream in equal measure stirred into a smooth, decadent delight.
While the cake baked and the frosting set, Catherine gathered twelve candles in her son’s favorite color, purple. She flipped through the photo album from his first birthday celebration. The cake she created that first year was perfect for the little boy he was then. Catherine had carved our part of the cake and crumbled it in a pile. She used a few of her son’s miniature construction toys on top mixed with construction cone candles.
The photos showed his chubby little hands digging in and smearing dark frosting all over his round face and tuft of baby-chick hair that was finally growing in. She could almost feel his sticky hands and smell his sugary breath. He was surrounded by family and gifts and balloons. Catherine’s favorite photo was the one with her and her husband helping blow out the candles on top, the three of them together.
With the cake cooled and frosted, Catherine placed the candles on top. She lit the twelve little points of light and quietly sang Happy Birthday to Jack. Catherine placed three pieces of cake on her grandmother’s Blue Willow plates. As she sat alone eating her piece, Catherine imagined what her son would be like at this age. She thought of the missed milestones and the achievements he would never experience. Days like today she especially missed her husband. Grieving not only both losses, but having no one to grieve and reminisce with was extraordinarily lonely.
When her piece of cake was gone Catherine scraped the rest into the garbage and placed the plates in the sink. She didn’t have the energy to clean them now. She removed her apron and replaced the recipe book back on the shelf. Catherine carried the photo album back to her bedside table where it resided. She kissed the photo on her nightstand and dropped into bed. Tomorrow would come whether or not she wanted it to.
There has been a lot of talk about Simone Biles and her journey of late. Most of the people I follow and connect with have come out fully supporting her and her decisions. They support her right to make her own decisions about her body and health. It makes me happy that the people I’ve surrounded myself with are individuals of empathy and compassion.
But as always, there is the fringe where anger, resentment and jealousy thrive. People have strong feelings about a person they don’t know, a sport most have never competed in, and a level of achievement many will never reach. It’s made me think about our greater culture and views surrounding success.
There is a lesson here for us all.
Why is it that if you have a talent it is required that you push yourself until you break? Why are we expected to burn ourselves out in the name of achievement? Why are we considered a failure if we take a step back to reevaluate our priorities?
Why is it anyone’s business but our own?
This mindset has crept its way into most aspects of life. You must climb the corporate ladder to be respected. Your child must play on the most competitive and successful team. You must drive and strive, leaving no time for rest and leisure. If you aren’t the best at what you do, you’ve accomplished nothing.
Where has this attitude left us? We are stressed, irritable and view everything as a competition. Life is seen as something to be won instead of enjoyed. Those who take care of themselves, who put their health and family first, are seen as weak and soft.
How would our lives change if we embraced putting our emphasis on a balance of success and well-being? It shouldn’t have to be one or the other. We should study hard but also take a break and walk in the woods. We should build a killer slide deck for our work presentation but then shut down email and take the kids to the pool. We should be able to take that vacation we’ve earned without fear of retribution.
What’s holding us back?
I believe it’s the fear of judgement by others. If we don’t do it all, and do it well, others will judge our character, our morals and our dedication. This is what has played out for Simone and any other high achieving individual who has said enough is enough. The only way out is for each of us to make a conscious choice to step back from that all or nothing mindset. We can model a healthier balance for our own children. We can’t remain hostage to the expectations of people who don’t even know us.
What good is success if it costs us everything?
If success costs us our health, it’s not worth it. If success costs us our marriage, it’s not worth it. If success costs us our relationship with our children, it’s not worth it.
I challenge you to a change of direction. I challenge you to see hard work as enough, to do your best then enjoy the ride. We are all more than a list of our achievements.