Friday, November 02, 2007

Making a Literary Life Friday: What Makes You Tick

Making a Literary Life is the title of our Friday group entry here at the Writers' Group blog, but what does it really mean to us, to you? It is, in part, about the journey each writer travels to hone their skills, achieve their goals. It is more than that; improving one's craft. It is building a life that is balanced, meaningful. It's ultimately very, very personal.

This week I read in a fortune cookie (a time-tested and reliable check-in we all need sometimes) that an organized life comes from an organized schedule. That is so true, and it's is something I have focused on in the past few weeks. Having non-writing time scheduled is as important as having writing times. For me, for instance, I LOVE working with the children with autism at my school. THEY give me perspective and energy to write the best I can. I know it is different for different people. Making a literary life means finding your balance.

I learned an important lesson this week: Making a literary life means staying true to yourself. I arranged to have my author photo taken, buying a new sweater (I despise shopping), having my hair styled (that was kind of fun), and even going so far as to have my make-up professionally done (not so much). In the end, all I needed was a pair of robust shoulder pads because I looked like Linda Evans' character from Dynasty on a bad day. No wonder in all of the photos, I appeared to be caught in the nanosecond before blinking or talking -- it wasn't me. A debacle to be sure.

Yesterday, I tried again. This time, a different photographer, one who wanted to come to my home where I would be comfortable, talk about my book before she took a single picture. She wanted a feel for how to proceed. I didn't have my hair or make-up done, I wore an old sweater, a favorite, and sat in my office, on my beloved desk chair my husband rescued from the dump. It was an imperfect me, the real warty, comfortable me.

When I was revising my manuscript there were sections not everyone adored, some wanted revamped, but I trusted those pages. I believed wholly in them and felt strongly that they would resonate with readers. That's what our literary lives must be, a true expression of who and what we are, what we believe. So stay true to yourself and the work will be better for it.

I finished the revisions this week (!) and made a discovery. My children, naturally, seemed to think this was It, that the pile of paper on my desk would miraculously transform into hardcover. I laughed, assured them otherwise, and they told me to let them know when they could buy it before they got excited again. The discovery is that I'm okay with that. This version feels different than the last, that it will go farther. I know it will need massaging and edits along the way; all the better. The forward motion makes me tick, that gets me revved up, with this manuscript, and with the one that is excited to burst onto paper while the group reads. It doesn't need to be done because it is never done, as confirmed by wise women I know; as long as there is forward motion, I'm fine.

Lisa, Amy and Hannah are brilliant, aren't they? Finding balance, staying true to oneself and focusing on forward motion--all of these things are important aspects of making a literary life for me too. And I'll add another one central to my personal journey. Striving to be humble.

The other night I attended a reading where an aspiring writing who knows my novel is going to be published asked if she could touch me for good luck. I've had friends and family make jokes about how I'll forget them when I become famous. Making a literary life for me involves finding ways to respond honestly, enjoy my successes without boasting, share openly my disappointments and celebrate the successes of other writers I respect.

Humility isn't an easy virtue to hold on to, especially in a world where authors are forced to jockey for strong positions in the marketplace. Like all other aspects of making a literary life, some days I'm better at achieving my goals than others. What I try to remember is this-- it's a journey, not a race. And it's funny, it seems the harder I work, the luckier I get.


Lisa said...

Thank you all for the wise words on making a literary life. I needed to hear this today.

kristen spina said...

Wow. You guys are just so dead on today. Great post! Thanks for all the wonderful insight. Well-timed, I might add. I needed a little boost this morning...

Sustenance Scout said...

Funny that we all come to this blog when we need "a little boost." Balance and focus are my biggest challenges; they're also what I admire in writers who successfully achieve both and manage to crank out the goods along the way. Thanks. K.

Carleen Brice said...

I related to all these posts. Amy, it took LOTS of photos for me to get a few I was happy with. Good for you for giving up what you thought you were SUPPOSED to look like and just being yourself.

Lynne, I get the same type of comments and they always make me want to look over my shoulder to see who these people are talking about.

Sustenance Scout said...

Carleen, funny to see your comment; you're one of the writers I know who seem to have the focus and balance well in hand; I stumbled upon your LitMinds profile this morning and was encouraged to read about your daily writing habit with a goal of 600-1,000 words. That's so within my reach; I just have to do it. K.

Lynne Griffin and Amy MacKinnon said...

Lisa, we're always so pleased when you stop by.

Kristen, thanks for boosting us. So glad our journeys intersected.

SS, I think it's safe to say for each of us that in terms of balance, our families come first and then the writing. Many days, the paycheck must be put second, but because we need to write, we find a way.

Carleen, the photo "experience" is an odd one. It's important to acutally look like your photo for when people meet you. The worst is when they say, "gosh, she lloks so different in the back of the book..."