Mayhem Monday: Are you Open for Something New?

She sat alone on the metal bench. Her body turned away from me slightly so that our eyes wouldn’t meet. I could tell she didn’t want to talk. Her brow was furrowed and her lips were formed into a tiny rose bud. She folded her arms as her gaze followed the horizon without noticing the sunset.

“Are you enjoying the conference?” I asked, attempting to open her up.
“It’s fine.” She remained closed.

The heat of the day had finally given way to a cooling breeze that lifted the corner of the top sheet of a ream of papers resting on her lap. She lifted the stack, patted it, then gently slid them into her canvas tote.

“What’s your story about?” I tried again.

Her eyes sank into the darkness where her manuscript had disappeared and it seemed as if she were considering whether to climb into that depth with it. Eventually, she dragged herself out to look up at me. “It’s a love story” she sighed, “but apparently they’ve all heard it before.”

Slowly she unraveled the tangled threads: the “they” to whom she referred were all of the agents, editors and publishers whose hands had passed over her precious work. For one reason or another it wasn’t what they were looking for.

“I’m done,” she said. “This is it for me.”

“Have you thought of trying a different approach? Maybe revising the story? Or taking a different path to publication?” I asked.

“No.”

She remained closed. There was only one approach. Only one path. It was either going to happen this way or not at all…

My conversation with this determined, yet dejected author that day got me thinking. It has been said that tenacity and perseverance is the way to achieve goals, and there is certainly anecdotal evidence to prove this to be true, but could it also be true, that on this journey towards success, there’s also a place for compromise?

I think there is something to be said for flexibility and openness. Yes, we should absolutely have a vision of how our future success will look—write the vision, make it plain! Pursue and persevere! Keep your eye on the prize and don’t let anything take you off course! But…

if we persevere and pursue the vision without allowing any adjustments or compromise, might we actually cut ourselves off from the very dream we are pursuing?

I think tenacity cuts both ways. For example:

  • Publishers may be looking for the next best seller, but they don’t always know what that looks like. They base their expectations on what has worked in the past, so they may turn away new proposals that don’t “fit” those expectations; it doesn’t mean the works they turn away are not good. It simply means they aren’t what they were expecting!
  • Likewise, writers who have an expectation that success means acceptance from a major publishing company may also assume there is no other measure of their worth and no other means to accomplish their goal of getting published.

The result is both writers and publishers are looking for one thing and neither is open to looking for something new; so each is missing out on a blessing that awaits them.

Yet, blessings come in many forms! The Jews did not reject Jesus because they weren’t looking for him. They rejected him because he wasn’t who they were looking for. They needed to be open to the fact that their Savior had a different look than they were expecting.

Writers may have to pursue other means of publication in order to demonstrate their merit, and publishers may need to think again about what they assume will make a best seller.

If you’re not a writer, but you’re trying to pursue what feels like an impossible dream—don’t worry! There’s more than one way to succeed! You may just need to consider a new approach.

What are you looking for?

Do you need to adjust your expectation? Maybe what you’re looking for is right in front of you! Beauty and genius will never be confined, pre-packaged or pre-set by pre-determined algorithms.

Beauty and genius emerge from unexpected places, like the silky shadows cast across the horizon that my friend and I watched that evening as we sat on the metal bench at the writers’ conference while authors, agents and publishers passed by—they didn’t see her and she didn’t see them. They would only see each other if they were open to seeing something new!

Happy Monday!

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Mayhem Monday: Strap on your Power Pumps and Kick Failure!

When I was in grad school I often felt like I was climbing up hill. Alone.

By that time I was married with two small children and commuting about 600 miles (round trip) every week. Yeah, it was crazy. A few days each week I would sit in an empty apartment surrounded by books and papers, searching out the mysteries of some scholarly work, attempting to interpret some scholarly idea or—harder still—endeavoring to produce something scholarly myself!

Most of the time I was just climbing up hill.

There were smart people all around me. The students in my program were self-assured and articulate. They spoke eloquently about books I hadn’t read yet and professionals in our field whose names  I was still learning.  I liked being around them, though.  My hope was that their intelligence would rub off! So I smiled and nodded as the conversations swirled.

Still climbing…

In the car rides to school–during the long stretches of country road where there were few other cars besides mine–I would sneak peaks at the article I had yet to finish reading for class.  On the return trips home, I would mentally calculate how many hours I would have between the kids, the hubby and the home duties to complete writing and reading tasks before the next return trip.

Often the hill was steep.

Then that glorious time came when classes were completed–only exams and dissertation remained! Ah, but don’t  be fooled by the “only” in that sentence. It was yet another mountain.  Just when I could see the summit coming into view, the unthinkable happened.  I failed one of my qualifying exams.   My momentum halted. I began sliding straight down that hill. I thought I was done.

But, there were people around me who wouldn’t let me quit.  Two in particular—my husband and my advisor.  They made me look at that failure as a place to begin rather than end.  I had been so focused on pushing up that hill and getting to the top that I had actually missed some things along the way. I needed to go back and take a closer look. I had to slow down and think about each step. The journey was not just about the destination, there were some points along the way that I could only appreciate if I moved slowly and pondered them a little longer. My failure pushed me to  the apex of another mountain and once I pushed past the fog of disappointment, I was able to see my journey with fresh eyes.

And so, in spite of the setback, I kept climbing.

What I love about this verse in Habakkuk is that it says He’ll give me strength to climb “my hills” which implies that He is interested in my personal situation.  It means He knows what I need for the particular journey that I am on.  So, even when I feel like I’m unfit for the task at hand, even when I feel like I’m all alone, or it seems that I’m the only one in the room who doesn’t have a clue, this verse says He’s giving me strength to walk on “my high hills”–He’s telling me to take ownership of that mountain! To claim it as my territory and walk on it with all the power and might that He’s given me!

You know what that’s like? It’s like putting on the power suit and pumps and stepping out with full confidence that regardless of whatever failures you suffered yesterday, today is a new day and today you’re walking on your hills,  You can do it  with confidence because He’s got your back!  He’s not going to let you quit. He knows this climb is rough, but there are some lessons along the way He wants you to learn so He’s made your feet like “deer’s feet”—deer step light and leap gracefully over boundaries. God says do likewise.  Strap on your high heels and take to the high hills–He’s got your back!

Happy Monday!

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Mayhem Monday: Advice to Writers–Keep Going!

Overwhelmingly insignificant. Those are the words that I wrote down. It was the only way I could think of to describe how a beginning writer feels when she’s trying to gain her footing on this overpopulated landscape where writers come a dime a dozen! What sets me apart? What makes me different? Special? Worthy of attention? These are the kinds of questions a writer asks each time she sits down to write. Perhaps these are the questions that others ask as they set out to make their mark in the world as well—singers, artists, athletes—all those whose gifts feel special to them and to their loved ones, but look so pale in comparison to the esteemed greats of society–those who have achieved the highest heights and honors in their class, whose garments we can only hope to graze with the tips of our fingers in a crowded street if we’re lucky.

It’s hard when you’re buried under a mountain of crumpled papers and unfinished manuscripts, and discouraging when the rejection slips come in faster than the book proposals that go out. It’s demoralizing to sit, shivering in the corner of crowded coffee shops, pleading with God for inspiration while trying to tune out the distracting chatter as the blank page of the computer screen is mocking you and the blinking cursor keeps time with the fleeting seconds you have left before your other responsibilities invade this small space in time.

How, exactly, does one move from the crowded streets of insignificance, obscurity and non-productivity onto the fast track of notoriety, achievement and fecundity? I’ve been listening to some authors’ success stories and the same answer emerges from each one—“keep going,” they say. Keep doing what you’re doing. Keep writing. Easier said than done, huh? But, the consensus is, there’s no magic pill, no easy answer and, unfortunately, no shortcut. There are always exceptions, of course, but for the vast majority, the path to success is an arduous process of putting one foot (or should I say word?) in front of the other and refusing to lose faith. That feeling of insignificance is simply the reality that you’re not the only one who can do this—that is, write stories, articles or books—but it should be countered with another reality: you are the only person who can be you. At the very least, there’s that. So, they say, the trick is to infuse your work with your self—something that is unique to you. Do you know what’s unique about you? (Take this personality test to find out: My Personality)

Rather than focusing on the successes of others, focus on being your best self. Focus on improving as a writer, an artist, an athlete, etc, not so that you can be more like someone else, but so that you can be a better version of yourself. With your own past and future successes in sight you will have less time to drool over the achievements of others and your own significance will loom larger in your eyes. After all, each of us has been given an assignment. Let’s not waste time wondering why someone else’s assignment looks more interesting than ours.

In the grand scheme of things we do matter and we can and will make our mark in this world. We just have to keep going!

Happy Monday

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Cover photo by Kinga Cichewicz on Unsplash