Back up on the horse


I was just pages into Jesmyn Ward’s National Book Award-winning novel “Sing, Unburied, Sing” when I stopped, took a breath and realized that I was already blown away by the beauty and brilliance of her writing.

“You’ll never be this,” I whispered to myself.

For someone aspiring to be a better writer, 2017 was that kind of year. I launched this website, yes, and began writing on my blog in the nascent belief that maybe I did have something to say and perhaps some folks might even listen. Doing just that, for me, took a fair amount of bravado.

Plenty of folks were encouraging, but along came the naysayers, in my head and elsewhere - those who asked “Who cares what you have to say? What makes you think you can write?” - and those who said, bluntly, “No – we’re not interested.”

Those voices took a foothold late in the year and, along with personal and professional obstacles and obligations, set me back a bit.

I learned in 2017 that putting your own words out there in the universe takes no small amount of courage and that stepping out into the freelance world is not for the faint of heart.  Rejection comes with the territory, even for writers like Ward, for whom I suspect acceptance comes far more often now, but who admitted to her own self-doubts in this piece of advice

Persist. Read, write, and improve: tell your stories. Accept rejection until you find acceptance, but don’t become disheartened, stop writing, and remove yourself from the conversation.

One of the most heartening pieces I've read lately came near the end of the year in a Facebook post, offered up by a freelancer on a group page about a story she'd worked on for years. For just as long, editors rejected that story, questioning its worthiness, its relevance. But she persisted because she believed in its importance and recognized how overlooked the topic had been. Finally an advocacy group picked up the story and helped place it with a global media outlet. From there, it went viral: 80,000 Facebook shares, 500,000 page views, number one story on the media outlet's site. And its impact grew: help and advice pouring in for those lifted up in the story and protective legislation passed at the state level.

So to the voices out there wondering why I bother, the simple answer is that I like to write.  Despite the crumpled drafts (now digital), the contorted wrestling for the right word, and the possibility of being just average, I like the craft of writing.

On rare occasions I’ve even experienced what other artists, athletes, and thinkers call “flow”- like gliding across the top of the water when swimming laps. Sometimes the words and phrases just come pouring out, channeling through me from somewhere else. For me that’s special. And every now and then, I actually pull together some words that make a pretty good sentence and a pretty good point.

I write in the hope, after living this many years on this planet, that I actually have some experiences and thoughts that I can share with others and perhaps help someone along the way.

As the writer Anna Quindlen says, “Every story has already been told.  Except that each writer brings to the table, if she lets herself, something that no one else in the history of time has ever had.”

So here’s to you, 2018. I’m not, as Ward cautioned, removing myself from the conversation.