“Are you published?” It’s the first question an industry outsider will ask, while a fellow writer will get to it eventually, however tactfully. “So tell me about your work!”
But being unpublished in a free land is not the same as being unpublishable in a not-so-free one. On my nation’s Independence Day, I’m thinking of an international social media “friend” who once shared her anguish with us: as a woman, she’s not allowed to publish in her own country, so she courageously posted her story online.
I’m counting my blessings. And I’m also counting hers. Here online, borders don’t hold long. “Let freedom ring.”
I realized today how burned out I’ve become in the last few weeks. New quarter, new classes, new students, new preps, new circadian schedule, forecast of 116 degrees and no rain, no summer vacation. When students whined, I felt their pain all too well, and my short fuse required amends. Already, life had been warning me so strongly of impending burnout that three of the four classroom projectors I had touched in the past week had refused to shine, and today, the fifth worked barely long enough before burning out. Colleagues comforted me, assuring me that vulnerability is wonderful for my growth as a teacher, and my students received me better in that vulnerability. The spill gates had opened and I came home weepy.
My son is writing a musical, Invincible, in which he explores vulnerability. (He’s wise beyond his years. And we were discussing it way too late last night.) So maybe I can receive the message now?
So here is the unvarnished truth: I came home, looked at my computer, and resented my blog for the sixth blogging day in a row. I hadn’t even been here in a week. I wasn’t being consistent anymore, felt I’d lost my stride, and had nothing I wanted to say in public. Vulnerability schmulnerability. (There, Drew, we’ve finally rhymed it.)
Here I’ve been writing all year to encourage your writing fluency and confidence–and my own had fizzled out.
I did check e-mail this evening, where I found several congratulating comments on this recognition. It could not have been better timed. This challenge itself has been a blessing in my life, and today, when I hit that wall and wondered whether I should quit, there you were, handing me a cup of water and cheering me on. Bless you all!
I look forward to visiting the other nine. Maybe one of them is as thirsty as I was today.
Does it feel as though you’re always starting over? I’m beginning new projects, new rounds of old projects, new teaching quarter. Therefore, clients and students are doing the same; some students have even taken the leap to begin or return to their higher education. Their stories and their dedication inspire me.
Beginnings take courage, so I offer this favorite passage from John O’Donohue’s To Bless the Space Between Us:
“Perhaps beginnings make us anxious because we did not begin ourselves. Others begat us. Being conceived and born, we eventually enter upon ourselves already begun, already there. Instinctively we grasp onto and continue within the continuity in which we find ourselves. Indeed, our very life here depends directly on continuous acts of beginning. But these beginnings are out of our hands; they decide themselves. This is true of our breathing and our heartbeat. Beginning precedes us, creates us, and constantly takes us to new levels and places and people. There is nothing to fear in the act of beginning. More often than not it knows the journey ahead better than we ever could. Perhaps the art of harvesting the secret riches of our lives is best achieved when we place profound trust in the act of beginning. Risk might be our greatest ally. To live a truly creative life, we always need to cast a critical look at where we presently are, attempting always to discern where we have become stagnant and where new beginning might be ripening. There can be no growth if we do not remain open and vulnerable to what is new and different. I have never seen anyone take a risk for growth that was not rewarded a thousand times over” (2).
He also warns, “There are journeys we have begun that have brought us great inner riches and refinements; but we had to travel through dark valleys of difficulty and suffering. Had we known at the beginning what the journey would demand of us, we might never have set out. Yet the rewards and gifts become vital to who we are. Through the innocence of beginning we are often seduced into growth” (3).
Isn’t it great we aren’t in it alone? We support each other in our beginnings and our risk-taking, and here we are! Before we know it, we’re completing something and beginning again. Wishing you “great inner riches and refinements.”
In my classes, the work has to be done at some point, no matter what obstacles must be overcome. There’s no authentic incentive to lie–and I hope I’m teaching them that a clear conscience matters–and yet it happens. I can empathize, but empathy doesn’t include passing an unprepared student on to certain failure. How could the deceased ancestor approve?
Ironically, students struggling with attendance and punctuality are often those inspired by dead grandmothers. “My grandma said it was time to stop being a baby and get my degree.” It sounds like a noble ambition to honor a parent’s or grandparent’s advice, but it’s never enough. They have to want it for more selfish, more immediate reasons.
Whenever a student returns from a funeral saying, “It’s hard. I’m grieving. Sometimes it’s hard to concentrate. But I know she [or he] wants me to finish,” I know they’re going to succeed, against this and all other difficulties. And those dead grandmothers are going to be proud.
A friend asked today, “How do I know if anyone wants to read what I’m going to write?”
Here are my first three thoughts about that:
1) You don’t. Is there something you want to say so badly, you would write it even if no one else cared? Writing requires that kind of dedication, and it’s generally unsung. So consider yourself the most important audience. Writing will change you! It will focus your thoughts, show you connections you never noticed before, and train your mind in new patterns. Even if no one ever read it, it would be worth doing for the personal growth alone.
2) Your competition is a great teacher. If you have none–if you’re the only one writing about your subject–then there’s no market for it, yet. But everything ties in to something everyone cares about–like love or money. So read what everyone else is writing, become an expert on the conversation, and make your own addition to that.
3) Multiply the interest. It seems like the dark ages when authors wrote books and marketers sold them. Now authors are blogging and micro-blogging, exchanging expertise, increasing knowledge and interest in their topics, and attracting followers before the book is ever written. If you’re lucky, these readers will even ask you great questions which you can then answer to improve your project.