When I was in high school, I took a lot of AP classes. A lot. I’ve forgotten most of the tests and all of the scores except 1: English literature. I got a 4 out of 5. The reason I remember it so clearly? My English teacher that year told me that if I didn’t get a five, she would hunt me down and kill me.
I was a teacher’s pet across the board, but my English teachers took special interest in me. My writing was good. I showed natural aptitude and interest that I’m sure got them excited. I felt this interest keenly, sure that they were right about my future as a writer. After all, I’d written my first (lousy) novel by the time I was 12. So how could I have failed her? How could I NOT get a 5? Me, the writer!
The truth was, I needed to pass all the tests I could, and English was in the bag. I wisely put my effort into other areas. The five, it was her thing, not mine, though I still can’t help but look back on it with shame. It’s the same shame I feel when I look at my two not-lousy novels and wonder why I can’t bring myself to send those precious manuscripts out, when that’s the last step to achieving my dream. My friend suggested that perhaps it’s due to the differing skill sets required for writing and publishing, and I maybe think that’s true. It certainly makes me feel better for not wanting to consider social media, for hating agent research, for looking at writer/agent blogs with yawning disinterest before abandoning them for something–anything–else. But even if I’m not good at research or interested in social media, you’d think I’d get interested, that I would force the research as a means to an end–the road to the dream.
I’m starting to think it’s not really my dream.
It’s a logical dream. It’s one I’ve carried for a long time, pretended to have tons of interest in, nurtured through many channels. But I don’t know that it’s really mine so much as it’s the dream I think I’m supposed to have. After all, I’m still a writer, have been and always will be. I enjoy processing information through words, enjoy the kind of engaging arguments that English classes bring up. I’m glad I got my degrees, both of them, instead of anything else. And what else should a writer do but publish? Isn’t that every writer’s dream? But therein lies the flaw: there’s no every. There’s each. Taking on a generic label also takes on the baggage, direction, burdens, and blessings that go along with them. How accurate are those labels, and everything they bring? How much are they self-perpetuated and self-fulfilled?
I’m not sure what this means for me, except that I’m starting to let go of a lot of guilt I feel for not achieving–for not even wanting–the expected. If I feel bad about not being published, that’s one thing, but feeling bad because I’m not doing what other people expect is another. And, since I feel gifted and directed toward writing, I rest assured that God has plans for that gift. I’m letting go of the plans everyone had–including myself–so that they are free to do the work He has for me. Maybe it’s publishing, maybe it’s something else. But I need to be open to find out, and I need the answer to be well and truly mine.
This whole thing started because a friend and I were talking about our priorities. “Right behind taking care of the family,” she said, “the most important thing to me is (blank).” I was surprised by her answer, only to realize that my life demonstrates the same one. It made me ask myself the same question, seeking not only to decide what I wanted on that second rung (or the ones that follow), but how to change my life to reflect its importance. It’s a powerful question. It’s an even more powerful thing to answer it.