I have a problem with taking on a lot of projects at once. This can be good for getting more done. It can also be good for overwhelming yourself. Sometimes, I don’t know when to stop.
Two, maybe three, summers ago, I sat in the backseat of a tiny, blue, four-door, listening intently.
James Magruder was driving and Marion Winik, author of ten books including her then latest, Highs in the Low Fifties, was in the passenger seat, her feet propped against the dash. She began to ask him about his then latest collection of short stories, Let Me See It: Stories.
“How did you end up putting this together?”
“Well,” James said, “for about a year or so I was working on a novel that I started out really being interested in, but no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t finish it. So, I put it to the side hoping to one day get back to it. Then I started these short pieces thinking I’d be finishing the novel. But they started getting published, and I realized that I had to scrap the novel and continue with the stories. I realized it wasn’t right. I was devastated for a while.” Marion made a sympathetic sound of agreement.
I was genuinely intrigued, but I didn’t want to say anything for fear of missing parts of the conversation. It was short lived as the car pulled over and both James and Marion got out, James walking down the sidewalk, Marion replacing him at the wheel. Most of the time afterward, in that car, I was thinking of what James had said, giving up something you’ve been working on for some time for something that seems more worthwhile. It’s always an option.
At the time, they were my professors at the University of Baltimore, and they have always been talented writers. They are the kind of people you admire and silently, or not so silently, wish to be like.
I’ve learned many valuable lessons going through undergrad and graduate school. This one recently sank in.
I realized I have a few unpublished pieces at my disposal. On top of that are dozens of pieces in jump drives and external servers that had once been listed under, “Living Projects” but are now, “Unfinished Works.” Despite how heartbreaking that may sound, I have come to a point where I know that’s ok. Not everything will work out. Eventually most creators will be here too.
After I was finished with school, I had no plans. I couldn’t seem to gain momentum. Getting a job in a related field didn’t seem possible, and it’s still tricky. I couldn’t break into any reading series. I couldn’t seem to do anything right. I thought I was a failure.
Then, one day, I was perusing Facebook, social media being one of the major procrastination tools, when I came across a friend’s post showcasing their schedule for the year. It was filled with readings and workshops and all sorts of successful sounding things. I was proud. I mean, I know that person! Then I felt a tinge of jealousy and self-doubt. I felt bad. I felt guilty. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do, where I was going to go next, and it didn’t help that I couldn’t seem to keep feeling proud for my friends.
So, I asked another friend what they thought I should do. This is something I’ve found is very helpful to me, asking for someone else’s perspective. We get so caught up in ourselves, what we’re doing, that we often lose sight of chances we could take, feelings that we are allowed to have. It’s also good to lose the bias you might have for someone or thing else or against yourself.
A few things friends instructed me on doing:
- Get out of academia.
- Get out of Baltimore.
- Write a Blog.
- Screw the system.
- Submit everywhere.
- Write for people you know.
In the end, I told myself to just give it up. I figured the least I could do was take a moment to look at my options and see what I liked best. Really, I needed to catch my breath. You have to do that sometimes — give up, lose, fail.
I had to begin to understand why I write and why I was going to keep writing. The possibility of stopping for good is always there. I knew it. I thoroughly considered it too. Anyone who is going after something difficult, anyone who has failed more times than they care to remember, knows this.
What Conclusions I Had:
- I’m writing for myself, for personal, often cathartic and selfish reasons. Did I mention that I’m originally a memoirist?
- I’m writing for anyone who will listen. Yes, it’s important to know your audience and usually write for a specific group, but this goes beyond that. I feel that I have stories to tell, advice to give, and I think people should hear/see it. What they do or don’t do with it later is up to them. And I’ll only accrue more the older I get, the more I live, the more others around me live.
- I’m writing it to see what I can put together in a format that will garner some attention. See number two.
It can be challenging. Sometimes it can feel impossible, but those are the things we have to deal with. In this instance it’s more than overcoming myself to achieve something. It’s about learning and growing. That always seems to be the greatest cause, it’s not the destination but the journey etc. And that journey will have many roads, many ways that I’ll have to miss, often on purpose.
I’m still in Baltimore. I still have a few ties to academia. I’m still writing. I’m writing this blog. I’m writing for myself as well as everyone else.
The fact is, you can always give up. It’s not a bad thing, not always, but I’d recommend exhausting your options before you do that. Giving up is often seen as the easy out. But it can be the most difficult choice we can make. Of course, giving up isn’t always giving up, it’s changing direction to continue something else. There’s value in that. I hope you can see that, and I hope you are able to pursue what you want to.
All the best,