I can’t pick what I would focus my writing on. Should I write fiction or non-fiction. Should I blog or should I submit writing to be published? Should I go for a book deal or should I self-publish? Should I write about parenting or art or spirituality or what?
I think I was blessed that this National Novel Writing Month contest came out of nowhere for me and at the perfect time. It took away a lot of floundering for me in my dream. Suddenly the perimeters were all set. You are writing a novel and you are writing it during the month of November and you are writing 1666 words per day. Go! There wasn’t a whole lot of time to stop and stew over my choices. I had to just start writing.
I received an email from a friend recently who is being awakened again as an artist. She is revisiting old journals from her college days when she was in art school. As she soaked up the words she was reminded of old familiar feelings, feelings she had long since tucked away, much like the paints and brushes she had packed away in boxes. She knew she couldn’t hide those feelings any longer. She needed to be creating again. To feel clay under her fingers. To hold a paint brush in her hands. And yet, at the time of this email she had not done anything about it. Why?
Because she’s human and as humans we get very scared to face a blank white canvas. We feel the dreams inside of us. They are so big and we know we are capable of big, and yet when we start to entertain the idea of actually letting those dreams come out, we realize instantly it is not going to be a smooth transition. The dreams do not come out in one big piece as we can feel them inside. They trickle out. And in the beginning they can look so far from what we feel inside, that we don’t even recognize them. And that scares us. If we can’t have the transfer from in our hearts to on our canvas be a smooth and even trade, we’re not quite sure we want it at all. How is it possible that our dream is lost so tragically in the translation? We feel like the artist in Virginia Woolf’s novel To the Lighthouse:
“She could see it all so clearly, so commandingly, when she looked: it was when she took her brush in hand that the whole thing changed. It was in that moment’s flight between the picture and her canvas that the demons set on her who often brought her to the verge of tears and made this passage from conception to work as dreadful as any down a dark passage for a child. Such she often felt herself - struggling against terrific odds to maintain her courage; to say: ‘But this is what I see; this is what I see; and so to clasp some miserable remnant of her vision to her breast, which a thousand forces did their best to pluck from her.”
When I finished National Novel Writing Month it took me awhile to come to grips with the fact that I had spent a whole month of my life writing a pretty crappy novel. I don’t say that out of low self-esteem.
I can honestly say that because I know the novel would need A LOT of work to make it worth trying to get published. I haven’t been willing to put in that work. I’m not sure the plot is captivating enough to be worth my time. However, and this is a BIG HOWEVER, I am eternally grateful for that imperfect piece of work and for where it has taken me and my writing dream.
I can see now that I sort of got tricked into creating something imperfect. It is so hard for me to go into something knowing I’m going to fail. But National Novel Writing Month kind of happened so quickly, and I was so focused on meeting that 1666 word goal everyday that I didn’t have time to pay attention to whether what I was doing was good. I didn’t have time to re-read my writing from the day before. I just had to keep moving forward.
My artist friend who wrote me the email said towards the end, “I don’t even know where to begin. But I just need to begin doing something.” Yes. That is it. That’s where so many of us stand with our dreams. We just need to begin doing something. Not the perfect thing. But something. We need forward movement. We need progress. We need to know we are acting on our own behalf.
Part of me wants to go to my friend’s house and set up her painting station for her. I want to physically hold her hand, put a paintbrush in it and make her dip it into the paint and force that paint to smear across the canvas. I want to keep dipping and keep painting, my hand resting over hers, as the tears pour out from her eyes because this is not what she had in mind. This mess of colors and smears. This is ugly. This is not what the dream looked like inside. I want to just keep dipping and painting and trading out canvases while her eyes get blurry and her nose starts running from all the crying she can’t hold back.
At some point, if we are to truly chase our dreams, we are going to have to go through the horrid (there really is no better word to describe it) process of that initial beginning where what is inside is beckoned out and what comes out is given the privilege of taking a form that will repulse us. I don’t understand the science of it. Maybe that is because it is not scientific at all. But somewhere in the mess, miracles begin to occur. We start to lay the groundwork, a discipline of making daily time for our dream. We start to trust that any progress is good progress. We start to let go of the time table so lost are we in the weeds of our dream.
To get there, we just have to dive into the imperfection long enough to break through to a miracle. My ugly novel was a miracle. It was an accomplishment that gave me the guts to call myself a writer. And that permission opened up new doors for me. Why, if I am a writer, I could write e-Books. And if I am a writer I have something to say. And if I have something to say, I could lead others. And if I could lead others, I could speak hope into their lives.
One miracle (or break through) is enough to bring us back up for air and then we have to dive back in again. This is the messy part of dream living. This is the part that no one wants to talk about, let alone live out. This is where change starts to happen so subtly that you might miss it entirely. You might wake up a month later and shake your head to come out of the fog and say, “Hey, where did this 50,000 word novel come from?”
It certainly didn’t come out of me in all one piece. The dream of “I want to write a book” pours out in one words increments at a time. The words are all over the place, like the sloppy paint on a canvas, but each word represents a piece of my dream. I am no longer a chaser, I am a doer. I am living the dream. It’s not how I pictured, but now I have momentum. I will make it.
Things to Consider:
- Are you allowing imperfection to flow freely?
- Are you able to appreciate and learn from "mistakes"?
- Is it that your dream isn’t possible now or is it that you’re protecting it until it can flow out of you perfectly? Would you rather wait on a perfect dream (which may never materialize) or start living your dream today?
- How long have you been waiting on your dream?
- Do you love yourself?
- What does grace mean to you? Can you extend it to yourself?
- Do you want this dream almost as much as you want to breathe? Is it one of a few glorious obsessions you have? Why? Why do you want it?