Sunday, May 15, 2016

How I Tried to Give Up Writing...and Failed

"I can't do this anymore. It's too emotionally draining. As soon as I finish with this draft, I'm closing the door on my writing 'career.' I'm not a writer anymore. It's over."

It's August 2013, a few weeks before my 59th birthday, and I'm about two-thirds through a first draft of my stage-musical adaptation of The SunQuest, the third story in my Q'ntana Trilogy. I've been at this nonstop for six weeks now. I started with The MoonQuest, the first story, and have continued straight through The StarQuest and into The SunQuest. I still have a fair bit of work left on this trio of initial drafts and I'm beyond burnt out.

For more than two decades, I have treated writing as a spiritual pursuit, writing from the deepest inner places I have been able to access and, as the title of my memoir suggests, surrendering more and more fully with each project to what I view as my highest imperative. This is also what I've taught – in my books for writers as well as through my coaching, classes and workshops.

But on this day, it feels as though I have sacrificed too much for too little return: My book sales are poor, my coaching income is negligible, I no longer have a home or car of my own and the emotional pain of digging so deep has grown unbearable.

On this day, my only commitment is do whatever it takes to finish this draft of The SunQuest so I can bring my trilogy of stage musicals to completion.

Two weeks later, as soon as I ring down the final curtain on The SunQuest and my Q'ntana musicals, I declare to my housemate and my closest friends that I'm on strike. "If I'm going to return to writing," I insist, "something has to shift. Otherwise, I'm giving it up. The work is much too hard for so pitiful a payoff."

My friends, some of whom are writers themselves, make sympathetic noises. I'm certain that they don't doubt my sincerity, but I suspect they doubt my determination. "Let them doubt," I mutter as I settle into a diet of Netflix movies and murder mysteries. "If nothing changes, I'm not going back."

My sole concession is to a pre-strike interview I conducted with New York Times bestselling mystery author J.A. Jance the previous month (see below). Because Jance was so generous with her time, I commit to editing the interview and posting it to YouTube as the sole writing-related interruption to my job action.

About 34 minutes into our recorded conversation, as we're talking about craft, I tell Jance how much I love that she never outlines her books because I don't either.

"I have to sort of step out with faith," she says, "that if I can write the first sentence of the book, I can eventually get to the end of it."

"Shit," I say out loud – not to J.A. Jance in the interview, but to the recording I'm editing. The moment she talks about the faith that gets her from her first sentence to her last, I know that my strike is over.

My creative and spiritual lives have always been inextricably linked, and both have been built on a solid foundation of faith.

My faith, as I describe it in Acts of Surrender, is not about submitting in any kind of demeaning fashion to some white-bearded, white-robed gentleman peering down from on high. "Rather," I write in the book, "I acknowledge the existence of an infinite mind whose wisdom transcends my conscious thoughts, and I do my best to defer to it. Whatever [that infinite mind] is – and I don’t pretend to have solved the theological and scientific question of the ages – it is something that is both within me and of which I am part. Whatever it is, it is definitely smarter than I am, and that is where my surrender is directed."

As J.A. Jance's words echo in my heart and mind, I realize that if the deepest part of me has determined that I am a writer and that my writing (and all that derives from it) is the most important part of my being, I can't walk away from it. I can't abandon my faith and I can't stop surrendering to it. I am a writer. Period.

I would be lying if I said that I never again doubted and never again half-wished that I could turn my back on the sometimes-onerous demands of my Muse. But every time I'm tempted, I remember my 2013 writer's strike and the words of faith that aborted it.

In the end, as I'm reminded over and over and over, all that matters is that I'm writing.

The writing has definitely continued since my failed strike; if anything, the pace has picked up. Although I have yet to return to my Q'ntana musicals, I am now at work on my 13th book, After Sara's Year, a reader-demanded sequel to last year's award-winning Sara's Year, itself a story about never giving on your dreams. 

After Sara's Year will be available later this year; meantime, pick up the Sara's Year, the  first installment in what is now The Sara Stories! Look for all my books in paperback or ebook from your favorite online bookseller or signed by me to you from my website.

From my interview with J.A. Jance (if the video doesn't play from the player, click here)...
"I hated outlining in 10th grade geography class and I hate it now. Because I write murder mysteries, I usually start with somebody dead, and then I spend the rest of the book trying to figure out who did it and how come. I have to sort of step out with faith that if I can write the first sentence of the book, I can eventually, 100,000 words later, get to the end of it."

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