A moment in the sunshine

A couple weeks ago, one of my pitches for a travel story was accepted. I’ve been blogging for a very long time, probably about 13 years, maybe longer, so I am no stranger to a first person narrative, but this felt a little bit different. This was no slap-dash rambling tale of something that happened, this was a STORY, this was something someone might actually pay me for! In some ways it felt like that hypothetical stone that smart asses with at least one college level philosophy course bring up. The one that God creates, and just might be so heavy He cannot lift it.

So, I started off with a draft and realized at about 1200 words that I could write a lot more than the 1000 word limit I was given, especially considering I hadn’t even hit the parts that I had said I was going to write about in the pitch. I took some inspiration from the 2018 Years Best in Travel Writing anthology, which were very much like the blogs I’ve been writing for many years. Incorporate the personal with the spectacular, thread them together and allow the setting to become a character in the story.

I pored over the story, writing out the narrative, filling it full of imagery and character and then ruthlessly killing my darlings, carving it down over 700 words until I hit my word count. Ish. I thought of the Hemingway documentary I had watched the week before, and how he urged writers to just begin by writing one perfect sentence. Then following that one with another perfect sentence. This meticulous attention to detail borders on the obsessive. It is a rock it’s Creator never judges the weight of properly in the beginning. That bitch is heavy.

After a few days of this, I submitted the story. I’m still waiting to hear back. I like what I turned in, but I did have my doubts. Part of writing is familiar to anyone who has been in an unhealthy relationship. You have to anticipate what your editor might want, without actually knowing. I guess the best approach to this is to submit your best writing, and if they don’t like it, you can submit it someplace else. Otherwise, it’s just mindreading (which is impossible) and dumb luck (which is more likley). Hard work, editing, and maybe just a modicum of belief in yourself will payoff if you keep at it. That’s what I’m going with anyway. Otherwise, you have about as much luck selling a story as you do hitting a winning scratch ticket.

My doubts stemmed from the fact that the anthology I was reading was extrapolated from magazines such as Esquire, New York Magazine, the Atlantic, and some others. Had I completely misread the room and put this personal narrative out there when really they might have wanted some kind of list of “Best places to eat dungeoness crab on the Oregon coast”? So, yes, of course there are doubts.

Just as a parent has doubts that first time they let their kid walk to school on their own. The doubts that you get when you set foot on an airplane that is about to fly close to the speed of sound halfway around the world. The doubt you get when you give that person you like your phone number. And with those doubts comes a feeling of exhiliration too. The possibilities that come, all of which are good, which are more likely to come true than any of the negative shit you’ve been cooking up in your head.

That kid will make it to school, and make the trip about a thousand more times. And they will learn to drive, and read train timetables, and take buses in other countries, and be self-reliant when the chips are down. That flight you were nervous about taking will open your eyes to new wonders and experiences that nothing can take away from you. The person you like calls you and you laugh and chat and enjoy each other’s company, gradually filling in the blanks of each other’s Mysteries until you chide yourself for ever being nervous about giving them your number in the first place. You wouldn’t know what to do without them.

And maybe that story gets published and it takes a bunch of readers along with you. Because that is the entire point. Like anything worth doing though, it takes time and work and overcoming some serious doubt.

After all, most Creatives are like this because we’d had our share of damage in life and use our talents to try to make sense of this universal brokeness, this imbalance of emotions and personalities and conflict we find ourselves examining every day. Otherwise, we would do something sane like working with numbers, which never lie. So of course we will have some doubts. We will have to overcome our own self-doubts, fight our own demons, and maybe get to some point where we can have that moment in the sunshine where we feel the warmth on our faces and say “I like this feeling.”

Just a little bit of that is truly addictive.

It’s no wonder we get so fearful of the next chance, which could be a total failure. But what if it isn’t? What if it’s another day with the sun on our face? And like Hemingway’s perfect sentence, we just follow up with another one.

Do something every day that scares you

The more I’m trying to work on my travel writing, the more I feel like I’m scaring myself silly. Which is a good thing. I know that I have a lot of work ahead of me. Hell, right now it feels impossible to even get someone to respond to an email, much less setting out on some long press trip. In many ways it feels like something someone else would get to do and I would listen, just drooling about the whole experience. And they would probably just complain about how dirty a city was or that it’s hard to get a drink with ice in it in Europe.

I begin with daydreaming.

If you can begin with a dream, then you have a goal, and you can work towards a goal. That’s how I work anyway. That’s how I was able to go to London nearly two years ago. Tonight I was looking at Google Maps and just seeing the green of the UK and the hedgerows and the way cities were laid out made me miss my experience. Jeez, I could FEEL what it felt like to see those places! I want to go back. I want to go so many other places too.

I discovered that you can buy a rail pass and see Europe for pretty much which it cost me to drive to Oregon last month. (Around $400) You can take a month to go from place to place too, with several cities and stops along the way not really adding anything to the price of tickets. I didn’t realize how close countries are really. In many ways, it’s a lot like our states here. Yes, I know that is a newbie thought. But when you visualize it like that, it seems less daunting. It seems like a shorter hill rather than an unsurmountable peak.

Hopefully lockdowns will relax and in the meantime, I can figure out little things like how to fund trips like this. Time is also critical. Gathering information. And though a month trip like that is likely a far off experience, it’s a good place to start.

I can’t believe it has been nearly two years.

I have the wanderlust bad these days. My trip out to Oregon was only enough to take the edge off just a little bit.

This is the motivation. What doesn’t come so easy is the discipline to do it. To just keep hammering away at it until something clicks and it goes from being a dream into reality. Work, read, write, pitch, query, travel, repeat. It’s a simple formula, but one that sometimes I feel is about twenty years too late. But back then there wasn’t the access to information the way there is now. In some ways it is easier. And then my life is a little more complicated than it was back then.

I suppose it’s all a trade off.

I mean, what happens if you set a goal and there is nothing standing in your way except how much you want to work to get there, and the result is getting everything you want and more? How terrifying is that? I mean, what if you actually get it?

Wow.

Such weight

Last night was a big night for writing. I got 3500 words (maybe more) down in the book. I also finished reading a resource for the travel blog and by the time I passed out at around 2am, I was ready to start the whole thing over again today, bright and early.

The crazy thing about writing, for me at least, is how when you are in it, you don’t want to stop. It’s like a runner’s high almost. The words just flow. But as I sit here this morning, with a kernel of an idea in my mind, there is that resistance that I have to overcome. That piece that says what I’m going to write is going to be garbage and I’m just making more work for myself, or worse yet, wasting my time.

Steven Pressfield goes on about this at length in his books. He calls Resistance the one true evil force in this world, and you know, I think he is right. But it’s more than Resistance, it’s a weight you feel. For me, I have the weight of writing the book and also the weight of getting out there and marketing myself for freelance gigs, travel writing, and pitching places to visit. I also have a few more books I need to read. That alone is tough, since for most of my life, reading has always been a sign that you don’t have anything better to do.

Even in college it was hard to escape that feeling. What? You want me to read 1000 pages by the end of the week? Yes, I know I’m an English major, but I’ve got stuff to do. Work. Other classes. Parties. I just don’t have time. Even though the entire point of some of my classes were to read the books they gave us, more often than not I found myself falling asleep as I read them, or just faking it in discussion the next day and getting decent grades anyway. So when I tell myself that part of my job as a writer is to also READ, it’s often very hard. It just doesn’t feel like work. It feels like screwing around.

Also, my kid and my dog take strong positions against my just sitting there quietly reading when I should be entertaining them.

Sometimes it feels like there aren’t enough hours in a day and if I do what I want at that moment, such as today, which is to work on the book, I feel like it’s Wednesday and then I get this moment of panic that says the week is burning off and I need to send out some more queries or pitches. Those take more brain power than writing the book, if you can believe that. As does writing copy for companies.

Resistance is one thing, but sometimes it feels like I’m trying to push too many cows through the chute at once. Then it’s hard to get any one thing accomplished. Working for yourself is much different than sitting on your ass at a desk all day, waiting for someone to drop an assignment on your lap and throwing an arbitrary deadline at you while they bugger off to Thailand or something.

I don’t miss that one bit, but sometimes it’s a little unnerving to think that I have to work twice as hard if I want to be my own boss.

So, today I’m going to do what I can. I’ll start off with what I’m inspired to do and then work in the stuff I have to do later when the creative process is still warmed up.