A friend of mine recently asked if I would be willing to be a resident writer on her website. I was thrilled, because I think this woman and her writing are inspiring, and I'm honored that she'd want to affiliate herself with me in any way. I was also thrilled because I love to write.
For me, writing is fun. But it wasn't always.
Once, I spent a couple of hours writing an essay, then fired it off for submission to a national magazine's first-person true story essay column. Then I kind of forgot about it, because the chances of it being selected for publication were so remote. But it was. The only reason I knew the woman calling to tell me so wasn't a friend pranking me was because I hadn't told anybody of the submission. Well, that, and the Caller ID.
It was awesome. The first thing I'd ever submitted for publication was being published in a national magazine. They edited maybe two sentences. It was a great feeling. But it was a lousy precedent. Because then I felt like everything that flowed from the tip of my pen, so to speak, had to be good enough for publication in a national magazine. As you might imagine, this kind of internal pressure did not lead to me becoming a gushing fountain of prose.
Then a couple of months ago, I opened a catalog with a picture of this t-shirt. And the realization hit me like a ton of bricks, or, more accurately, like a ton of crap: Nobody writes perfectly all the time. Even really good writers have to write their way through a lot of junk to find the gems. And even then, the gems need polishing. I don't have to be perfect all the time. I don't even have to be good most of the time. I just have to write. I may never write anything great, even if I write every day. But I'll never write anything good if I don't write at all.
If this sounds suspiciously like the advice I gave my son, this little epiphany is where it came from. And now I get to write for fun, and let the crap pile up around me while I look for treasures. (I speak figuratively here, but it does occur to me that the more time I spend writing, the less time I spend cleaning.)
It reminds me a little of the story of the parents who were worried because their son seemed to be an incurable optimist. Fearful that he wouldn't be able to deal with the disappointments of the real world, they took him to a psychologist, who promised to cure him if they would leave the boy with him for several hours. They agreed, and when they returned, the psychologist explained that he had locked the boy in a room filled waist-deep with horse manure. After a few hours of that, no one could possibly be cheerful.
But when the door was unlocked, instead of seeing the boy subdued, the parents and psychologist found him shoveling with great energy. The psychologist sputtered, "What's wrong with you? How can you possibly be happy in the middle of such a disgusting scene?" The little boy looked up and exclaimed, "With all this horse sh*t, there's GOT to be a pony in here somewhere!"
So that's it. I'm making my way through the piles of crap, trying not to get discouraged, and believing in the pony.