Friday, November 4, 2011
On Being a (Real) Writer
This week I learned that my poetry chapbook, I Can Make Life, was selected as one of three finalists for the Mary Ballard poetry competition. This week also marks a change in my self-perception: I truly felt like a real writer for the first time, and not just an imposter.
The announcement was made on the Casey Shay Press blog on November 1st. I didn't sleep well that night, partly wondering, as I had been the past week, if my book would make the cut - one of many competing thoughts swirling in my mind this past stressful week. I decided to stop fighting sleep, to give up and get up, and see if at 4:00 am PST the results were posted. They were! I prepared for disappointment, scrolled down the post and assumed that the three finalists were listed alphabetically. I saw Mary Stone Dockery's name. Nope, I didn't make it. Scrolled down further and with bleary eyes saw my name - the finalists were listed alphabetically by book title! On the heels of a week of anxiety about failure and success (in almost equal measure), followed by the thrill of being one step closer to a book deal meant I surely wouldn't sleep now. So I worked at my computer until it was time to wake my kids and get them ready for daycare and school.
I learned something about myself as a writer this past week. That the success I've had so far with this little book only adds more feelings of pressure. The phenomenon that applies to bullies can also be applied to artists: the bigger they are, the harder they fall. It was an almost unbearable feeling this past week - certainty that my book wouldn't make the next cut, interspersed with moments of hope, then cut down by knowing that while there was a plan B for the book, it would take much more effort to get it out into the world - and additional energy and time are at an all time short supply these days and the many forseeable days ahead.
I had to ask myself...am I cut out for the life of a writer with all this roller coaster activity in my psyche? I suppose I've never dealt with this type of angst because although I've been writing poems and various types of creative non-fiction for twenty years, until this year I hadn't really shown it to anyone who may accept or reject it. It's a new experience to put something you care so much for out in the world and then let it go, come what may. Even on a relatively small (but no less important) scale.
In a situation where your creative work, filled with your heart and soul, has some potential to bring you some return (and ultimately I believe creative work should be accessible to all but also bring return to the artist - a complicated dilemma fit for a book of its own)...and in times where all resources at hand feel like they are shrinking around you: mental space, time, energy, money - much is at stake.
I am at a point in my life where I have to make really judicious decisions about where and how to spend my time and energy. More poems? A swept floor that, for the love of my family, doesn't look like the floor of a barn? Less satisfying efforts to raise much needed funds to cover daycare and living costs in the most expensive city in the country for the next four years? I feel like a person who has newly discovered herself, her own potential, and found within the flame that wants to keep burning towards that potential - but frustratingly can't to a satisfactory degree for a number of competing and equally compelling factors. There is momentum, but crazy-making obstacles. As always, the timekeeper is there hovering, saying now or never, time is short, this is what you are here for. But my inner accountant, and my responsibility as a parent in particular, keeps asking, "but how, but how, but how the rest?"
So now I truly do know what it is to be a writer of any stripe. I'm glad I'm here along with the rest; I truly feel privileged to garner any attention at all with the words I commit to paper and feel compelled to revisit and rework until they become something more than the sum of their parts. It is an honour, and it is wonderful to finally see myself as one of the pack. A gift I am humbled to accept.
Every day I am finding my way on this path. I had the pleasure of meeting up with an acquaintance I only knew in passing in high school, but reconnected with recently at my twenty year reunion; she is in the word game, too, as an article writer and editor, and knows all too well the balance of trying to make ends meet while pursuing a passion for words. This week I also received my first email via my new website, from the International Women's Writing Guild - an invitation into the fold. The IWWG found me on the list of finalists for the Mary Ballard poetry prize, then my website, and sent me my first official "you are a real writer" email...The world opens up with these new and inspiring connections.
Upon discussing writing and publishing with my highschool friend, a new/old realization this week: that I really do need to pursue my interest in creative non-fiction. There are many opportunities in this emerging genre - a genre which really appeals to me as someone with what the brilliant Margaret Laurence once called "a fiction writer's memory". I have many details to access in my memorybank, many ideas, many stories, and the will to make them become what they want to become. I have written so many poems in the past few years because with time being so short, I can start and finish quickly. Now, though, it may be time to expand, in tiny baby steps, start to finish. So for now, to start, no matter how small a start I can make, and to brave further ahead. Come what may.