Monday, January 23, 2012

like a bird on the wire

It's funny how you can learn important lessons from the most trifling things.

Evan and I have been watching the show Sons of Anarchy for the past two weeks. We're halfway through the third of four seasons right now, and last night I started putting together some pieces in my life.

One of the show's main themes is recognizing what is most important to you and then doing anything you have to do to maintain it, achieve it, protect it--whatever. And these characters willingly put themselves through hell, throw themselves into gun fire, sacrifice their lives to keep that one thing sacred and to keep it going for the others who care.

I started writing books when I was 9 years old. It was the thing I did above all else, the thing that lurked in the back of my head at all times, the thing I would do after dinner: lock myself in my bedroom scribbling in notebooks. I wrote through puberty, through high school, through the turmoil of college, and through my early twenties up to where you know me now, on the precipice of 26. Almost two-thirds of my life, devoted to writing. The older I get, the dimmer my memory, I'll only remember that I was always writing, always thinking about writing.

And yes, during all that time I always had the far-off thought that one day I'd like to see my name in print. But first, I needed to do this with my writing, and I needed to improve my dialogue, or strengthen my word choices. Always something. As long as I was still writing, still coming up with stories, I was happy. I am happy.

Then I started blogging. And I saw how many people wanted to be published. And I asked myself if there was something wrong with me, that I didn't really think about being published--just writing. Did that make me less passionate? Did it make me a coward, because I hadn't thought about being published yet because I felt like I still needed to improve before I tried to put myself out there, still needed to write a better story, with better characters and better plot and better everything. Was I a coward?

Things started to change. I started finishing novels instead of just starting them. I saw massive improvements in my craft, felt them in my planning process. Saw maturity emerging in my words. So then I thought, yes. I can do this. I am close. I am ready. No more fear: just desire to make myself presentable, to make my words sing, to make them the best I am able.

When I finished my most recent book, I thought: this is the one. I'm going to shine it up and send it out. I'm going to be querying by April, at latest. I'm finally going to do it.

And I thought about that constantly. I thought about the drive to publish, I imagined writing query letters, getting the call, telling my husband that I had a book deal. Fantasy overrode reality.

In nursing school, nearly any student you talk to will tell you that s/he (but mostly she) is going into nursing because of her passion. She feels called to be a healer, to be this profession that is more than just a profession. They all walk around with this enormous depth of drive and well of desire that keeps them going when the cards are stacked against us. When the knowledge seems crushing and the skills are overwhelming and there are three tests around every corner, and everything is pass or fail--they have their passion.

And me? Nursing isn't my passion--I already have my passion, have had my passion since I was nine years old. The thought constantly presses against me: what am I doing in this field where passion is queen, with my passion at home in old notebooks and on hard drives?

This thought was truly giving me a crisis last semester. I finally overcame it by remembering that I will always need a day job, and I chose nursing through the sum of its parts--not the title first. I managed my time a little better so I could write a few days a week, and all the crisis went away.

But then I got the new bug, the publish bug. The query bug. And suddenly nursing school was in the way again. Last semester is a joke compared to this one. I'm learning skills that are honest-to-god life and death, medication administration, starting IV lines, inserting Foley catheters, learning everything I need to know about all the medications I will use in my practice.

In only two weeks, the crisis was starting again.

And then we started watching Sons of Anarchy, and I saw these characters who said: yes, I will go to prison for this thing I did. I won't be in there forever, but I will serve my time as long as I must, and when I get out, things will be back to normal. My passion has been saved because of this sacrifice, and I will live to fight for that passion for many more days.

The understanding started pawing at me pretty quickly, but it wasn't until yesterday that I let myself look at it and feel it and acknowledge it.

Writing isn't the only passion in my life--it's just my doing passion, if that makes sense. It's the thing I'd rather do instead of play video games or play the guitar or paint or photography. I also have passion for learning and knowledge. I crave knowledge. I savor every scrap of new information that I learn and I horde it. It's like those old ESPN commercials: "my greater than your knowledge!"

And most of all, I have a passion for my husband and for our life. Getting into nursing school was a year-long process. School itself is a two-year process. I make a pittance with my day job: he's our real bread-winner. He's the one who's said, "yes--I will put my own soul-searching on hold because I want you to do this, to find yourself through this new adventure." For that, I owe him everything. I owe him my full attention on school, I owe him paying attention to the other elements of my life that can give me happiness besides spending 8 hours a day in front of my manuscript. I can "go to prison" for just one more year, because when I get out, everything will still be here. I will still love to write. I will be a year older, and I will have read hundreds more books that will inspire me and teach me and improve my craft. I will have done my best at what I'm doing, and I won't live with the lingering guilt of I could have done better, if I'd tried harder.

I'm not saying I'm not going to write. I'm saying that the publish bug has been put into stasis. It was a foolish thing for me to obsess about the end, and not the means. I still want to revise and edit my manuscript, but I'm no longer holding up arbitrary words for it like "April" or "by the summer."

I guess passion is meant to burn bright and consume us. I'm not blowing out the flame, I'm just trimming the wick so my other candles can also contribute to the light of my path.


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

A passion carries us through any time frame, no matter how long.

Unknown said...

This was a great post. I can completely relate to everything you said. I went back to school last Spring to get a better day job and, every day, I miss my writing. But it's a means to an end. I must "go to prison" to better my life. Writing will be waiting for me when I get out.

Thanks so much for sharing your story!

Old Kitty said...

Lovely Summer!! Sometimes you gotta do things to be able to live and have food on the table.

But you also do what makes you happy! You do things because you find joy in them! Whether it's writing a book, finishing one, going to school, studying... the thing I found visiting writerly blogs is the be all and end all of writing that book attitude that prevails - getting that agent, getting that book deal, being published - then start again... It's too much sometimes, you know?? LOL! Life is eclectic!

Take care

JE said...

Oh, I've been down this road. Your post totally hit home. No matte what, though, keep yours dreams somewhere on the horizon.


DL Hammons said...

I hear you. These choices are difficult because they're between what we love to do and what we have to do. You'll find ways for them to co-exist and gain satisfaction from both. That's what I, and many others, have discovered. It may not be optimal, but its fair compromise. :)

Meredith said...

This is such a beautiful post. It's so easy to get caught up in the dream of being published that you can lose sight of why you got into writing in the first place--I need to remember that. Good luck with this semester!

Matthew MacNish said...

I don't see anything wrong with putting it off for a year while you finish school. We've all got bills to pay.

Teri Anne Stanley said...

It is easy to get sucked into the whole "well, everyone else is working toward publishing, so I should be, too"...but I started this whole writing thing with the goal of crossing something off of my bucket list: write a novel.
Not, publish a novel and become rich and famous.
So I know where you are coming from! I'm a science geek...that's not my passion, if I won the lottery, I'd quit in a heartbeat. But it's what I know how to do, I am relatively good at certain aspects of my job, and working here will pay my kids' ways through college.
And having a "day job" is pretty motivating to enjoy my passion when I am not working...if I had all day to try to do this novel thing? I'd probably find myself laying on the couch eating bonbons and watching The View.

Saumya said...

Wow, I relate to this post too much, Summer. Medicine feels like it's getting in the way of writing and even though people seem to think I balance them, the truth is that each day is a struggle. There is so little free time that it's often a toss up between resting, writing, or studying ahead. Being around people who have this as their sole passion doesn't help either. Your post gave me a LOT of solace today and I bookmarked it. It's such a nice surprise that I don't feel the same way and I love your analogy to the characters on the show. They said what I often have trouble articulating. Good luck with everything!

Linda G. said...

You are a very wise young lady. You have your head on straight, and don't let anyone tell you differently. :)

TG & I are plowing through SOA now, too. We're only about halfway through the second season, but we're loving every bit of it. GREAT show.

NiaRaie said...

Lovely, inspirational post. I can absolutely relate. It's possible to have many passions in multiple areas and you have to mix a bit of realism (day job) in with your dreams too. Kudos to you for being able to put that PUBLISHPUBLISHPUBLISH mindset on the back burner and focus on your love of writing. Great post.

Summer Frey said...

Thanks for all the responses, friends. It's always good to know that you're not alone!

Sarah Ahiers said...

There will always be other Aprils and querying won't go away. You need to do now, what needs to be done now, everything else will wait.

Luna said...

Sounds like a wise decision. Writing is something you can always come back to.

Beautiful post, Summer. Good luck to you!

DEZMOND said...

Yep, you need to be both practical and true to your dreams... always need a back up plan.

Irene said...

Hi there,
I just wanted to say, there's a time and a place for everything. Trust me, finishing nursing school doesn't neccesarily mean it will blow out the writing candle, (for me, it only shines brighter).

Guinevere said...

This was a beautiful, thoughtful post, Summer. I think you've grown a lot as a writer just in the time I've been following your blog, and I'm sure you're going to come back strong as ever once nursing school is over. I love the way you expressed this.

And I think it's okay to not be passionate about the day job. I've been thinking a lot about what to do with my future lately too, and as much as I'd like to write full-time (well, as full-time as you can do anything with a baby), I feel like I need to help support my family too. The family is my other passion -- not the work itself. It's hard to balance the art one is passionate about with the job one isn't, but it has to be done -- it sounds like you're making the right choice for you and your family right now. The passion isn't going anywhere. :)

Veronica and Thomas said...


I too have experienced that struggle with real life like my former job that controlled all my time and my deep continuing urge to write. Mine always came in waves as in half the time I wanted to write and half the time I was focused in my work. I fortunately finally left my job and started a new business that gave me more time for my family and more time for writing. You'll find a happy medium I promise!

Anonymous said...

A lot of people in the community put so much emphasis on publication they forget the whole reason they write in the first place. Kudos for remembering the passion AND for putting it in its appropriate place amongst all the other passions your life is made up of.

Matthew MacNish said...

I've heard you talk (write) about parts of this before, but it's great to see it all in one post. Thanks so much for sharing, Summer!

Scarlett said...

The journey is, truly, most fulfilling when we choose to live in the Here and Now. So proud! to see a young woman understanding what *exactly* this means. If I could only glean some of this wisdom from your words when I need them!

The reward is found within the souls we touch and the lessons we discover along the way. Telling the story, in your own good time, is admirable!

So glad to *meet* you here in the Fest, Summer! I look forward to seeing more.

Heather Day Gilbert said...

Enjoyed your post. Yes, prioritization of our writing dreams looks different at different points in our lives. When my children were small, I wrote, but only for myself. It was only after I had a little more free time that I dreamed of completing a book, and then the querying/publishing bug hit me and hasn't stopped. Nice to meet you!

Voidwalker said...

Very well put. Personally, I have many passions and at times they are at war with one another, but in the end, I think that we need to allow some things to take presidence so that we do not burn out on those passions. It might be hard to imagine, but yes, we can burn out on the things we love.

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