Grinding It Out…

I used to coach tennis. Those years remain among my favorite times as an educator. The young women who gifted me with their talent and commitment will always have a special place in my heart. But being a competitive athlete is tough. The girls and I had a mantra to sustain us during the long seasons. When the matches get tough, keep on grinding. That meant digging deep inside yourself, grasping the strength coiled there, and pushing through the hard times. Watching those young women stick to a game plan despite being sometimes over-matched or ill or in pain taught me more than they could ever know about grit, determination, and perseverance.

As a writer, I confront those ‘grinding’ moments on a regular basis. I suppose I ask myself several times each month, is this worth it? When those rejections arrive, or my queries are ignored, or my writers’ group says my new idea just isn’t working, I weigh the cost of going on against the disappointment of letting go. Which I can’t seem to do. Because the writing means more to me than the pain. Then I grind.

So much about this writing game is muscle memory. Sit, pound out the words, read, repeat. Just as tennis drills involve establishing that rhythm, teaching your body to react, practicing footwork, writing has its own set of drills. The journey begins with setting aside a time and place to make the work appear. This requires giving up, letting go, adjusting my life to exclude those activities that take away my writing time. It also means teaching my brain to ferret out the perfect word, the crafty line, the plot points that complete the arc of the story. This writing game demands that I do the grunt work of research and evaluation, of drafting and revising. Before the piece takes the court, so much difficult work must happen. I grind on.

There is glamour in winning. Watch those amazing Open tournaments. Attend a local match. Admire the men and women who endure heat, injury, and long sets to lift a cup and thank the audience. See them sweat, mourn a loss, celebrate a victory. For writers, victory comes with publication. But the moment is short-lived. We return, shrug off the afterglow, and pursue the next great tale. Perhaps, then, for writers, vindication occurs before that moment of victory, when the essay, story or poem reaches for us, passion takes hold, and we follow the memory, swinging at the ball of story, following the lob or cross-court shot into something beautiful, something moving. In the space between, the grinding transforms us. We emerge stronger, fiercer, more determined.

See you on the court!

Sharing Space… Literary Citizenship and the era of Me

It’s so easy to be caught looking inward. Navel gazing has never been so attractive. The culture of entitlement that surrounds us paves a yellow brick road to the Emerald City of Envy and invites us to pamper ourselves, celebrate our own egos, and neglect that which doesn’t touch us. Me, me, me scream the ads. “We’re all deserving,” suggest the self-help gurus. Mine is better than yours, sniff the armchair critics. Narcissus would be proud.

Recently, one of my author friends posted a question regarding writers who trumpet their own books as ‘the best of the year.’ Should we, he asked, be so blatantly self-centered? I submit that a good literary citizen remembers that we are a community of writers, that none of us succeeds without the helping hand, the lift up, the constructive critique,and the shoulder to lean on when the burden becomes too much to carry alone.

I have spent a significant amount of time, effort and money practicing my craft. As much as possible, I strive to be that good literary citizen for my fellow practicioners. Often, when I need that hand or shoulder, the pickings grow slim and the road long. But, still, I persist! 😉 To keep myself on track as I plod along, I have constructed a checklist of good lit citizen qualities. Forthwith, a path to achieve that most precious of status cards…the Good Literary Citizen Award.

1. Offer to mentor. What a gift to have someone point out the pitfalls, provide a road map and listen as you try out ideas. New and/or aspiring writers benefit from this. I only wish I had been fortunate enough to have a mentor early on.

2. Share information…about conferences, opportunities, meetings, workshops. No one knows everything, and what may not work for you may be just the thing for another writer.

3. Support writers, especially on social media and web sites but also in person. How flattering to be recommended, invited, included, applauded.  Nurture a network you may use someday. Vote for their books, mention their work, attend readings and launches.

4. Be generous. Offer to read and critique, without monetary reward when possible. The paying gigs will come later. Provide honest, constructive criticism. Speaking for myself, I won’t get better if I don’t know what needs to be improved.

5. Find a writing group where you can use your talents to promote yourself and others. We’re not all good at everything, but we are all good at something. If you’re a strong editor, offer that skill to others.

6. Be enthusiastic. Writers share a passion not easily explainable to non-writers. We all experience rejection. My computer file folder is filled with those NO emails. But, you know what? It only takes a word and a hug to pick me up and set me back on the path.

7. It’s easy to get lost in our own ambition. I remind myself that my greatest accomplishment may not be the best-seller I want to write, but the one I champion in another writer’s life.

I have witnessed the jealousy of writers, the tendency to find fault in others as a way to promote one’s own writing. It’s not pretty. I prefer to think that, as someone wiser than me suggested, a rising tide lifts all boats. Here’s to achieving the impossible dream…may you earn your card, as I hope to do, one small step at a time.