Riding (or Writing) the Bike that Matters

My husband bought a hybrid bike some months ago and has recently taken it out on several long, hilly rides. After years of riding, he can move pretty fast. “You would really be something if you had a road bike,” people tell him. Well, he does, but he chooses the hybrid instead. For him, though, it’s not about how fast he can go. It’s about building strength and getting the heart rate up. I love this about him, this willingness to do what’s right for him versus what’s popular.

We have both eschewed the typical quest for success in favor of quality of life, and he’s not the only one who’s gotten questions or comments. The one I get most is, “Oh, so you’re a writer. What else do you do?

I’m a little sensitive to that question. It takes time to write, to read the work of others, and to study the craft. There are days when the blank page intimidates and refuses to fill, days when the prose is boring, days, when plot problems don’t resolve. There are the works that change midstream, requiring a complete rewrite or even total destruction of what came before. Yes, often writers work day jobs out of necessity while they build their reputations, but it doesn’t come easily. After years of writing on my lunch hours while coworkers considered me antisocial, it’s nice to spend my days writing. I schedule my work as I did my previous jobs, with daily to-do lists and schedules to keep me on track. I have to limit phone calls and e-mails to avoid distractions. The good news and the bad news is that I am my own boss.

I have a lot of ideas, and I’m doing my best to get them all on to the page. As I revise Change of Plans and Blood and Loam, a new manuscript, Another Ordinary Day, has popped onto the screen and demands some attention. I manage this blog and Art of the Garden. So when I get thrown off-track from time to time, I tend to fret.

These past few days I have lived with some severe fatigue. A new gym opened up down the street, and I overdid it, I’m afraid. Some years ago I had some health problems that, while healed, still cause my body to complain from time to time, and I have to focus on sustained, consistent effort rather than the “no pain, no gain” philosophy. This last week I pushed a little too hard, and now I’m paying the price.

I used to hate these enforced periods of stillness, but now I see great value in them. I can’t just spit out pages of new prose…I can focus only on one sentence at a time. This slows down the page count, but strengthens the sentences. As I rest and stare off into space, my characters come to visit. We have a leisurely lunch at a French restaurant rather than a quick run through the McDonald’s drive-through and as a result, I get a clearer picture of their wants and needs. I let go of my idea of the story in favor of what the story wants.

Also in these moments, I ask myself the hard questions about my life. Am I living authentically? What do I want from this writing life? What matters most? I’ve discovered, to my surprise, an inner voice that wants me to continue working independently, as opposed to seeking traditional publication. Now, I want to make sure this comes from a genuine desire for independence, and not fear of rejection. So I go through the exercise of sending queries, and just this morning I signed up to meet with an agent in June at a conference. I intend to continue the process for a while to test this new information.

Part of me wants the “validation” that traditional publishing provides, even though I’ve read some awful books that make me wonder how they were ever chosen. There are people who believe that self-publishers do so because no one will have them. Yes, that’s true in many instances, but I also know several talented, though unpublished, writers. But does that matter to me?

Truth is, I write for the same reason that I breathe. I can’t live without the words any more than I can live without air. I never cared about fame or getting on the bestseller lists. It’s more about expressing myself and hoping to find some people who like to read what I write. Sharing the writing is my way of interacting with the world and building relationships. Do I need a publisher for that? Not really.

Some years ago I participated in a cognitive therapy program to help me work with anxiety issues. As part of that program, I had to keep a journal, which my therapist then reviewed and returned to me the following week. In the margins of some of my entries she wrote “WPT,” or what people think. She pointed out the many ways that I would stray from my soul’s path because I was concerned about someone else’s opinion of it. Over time, I learned that I still care what people think, but I can still choose actions based on my needs, desires, and personal truth.

I may be surprised. I may go to Austin and fall in love with the idea of getting an agent and going the traditional route. I suspect, however, that I will choose to stay independent. I think it works better for my personality and way of going through life. It’s the hybrid versus the road bike. Neither is “wrong,” but one suits us better than the other.


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