It’s been one of those weeks when the euphoria of success smacks up against the frustration of conflict and crisis. Christian was riding high on the success of a research story he’d promoted that went international—until something happened over the weekend that caused him to spend much of Saturday putting out fires.
In my case, it was my own fault. When you go on a crusade, you have to expect to take hits. And I did expect it. But I’m one of those people that lies awake nights brooding over conflict. I can’t seem to separate what I believe from who I am. When a person calls me ignorant, it doesn’t just smart on the surface; it burrows down deep and rattles the foundation of my self-image.
At the same time, I was participating in a novel critique contest. Opening yourself up to criticism is sometimes energizing, often mind-stretching, but always terrifying. The other writers’ comments were a mixed bag, but the authoritative voice—a literary agent—had this to say: “There is a nice voice here; the writing has talent. But I’m caught up in all the technicalities of the situation. … I don’t get a great sense of the protag. That said, I’m still intrigued enough to want to read on…”
It should be a shot in the arm: an agent used the words “nice voice” and “talent” when speaking about something I wrote. And it is—don’t get me wrong; for half an hour you almost couldn’t scrape me off the ceiling.
But near misses can be more daunting than silence or the form rejection. I start thinking, Am I supposed to be writing fiction, or am I just wasting my time? Am I not turning myself into a creative jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none? Shouldn’t I just focus on the nonfiction, the stuff I sell steadily? The work in which I know I’m making a difference in the world? Am I ever going to break in to fiction? Is it even worth the struggle?
It’s almost adolescent, the trembling fingers, the space jump from the mountaintops to the depths of the valley and back. I’ve spent the last week or two in a constant state of anxiety, good and bad circling each other and melding into a single whole.
In the end, these tremors are a positive force. This week, they sent me back to the documents I haven’t read in years, searching for the source of my antagonists’ unshakable certainty that I’m off base. Turns out I was right all along. And then I had a musical inspiration. On Friday I spent an hour and a half at the piano at church, and I came out with something complete—short, but complete. I floated home on a cloud of gratitude and discovered an email from my music editor…
Well, it’s not quite time to share that yet.
This is the life I choose—to borrow an old cliché, “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat” are lock-stepped in an eternal dance. Writing is an act of faith. I pursue excellence, I pursue the skill to communicate truths that people are desperate to hear. I pray for discernment of what I should be spending time writing, and then I go do the best I can, generally without any guarantee that my efforts will bear fruit, knowing that some will take issue with what I’ve been given to say. But I do it anyway, because I have to. I wouldn’t be me without it.