“Challenges are what make life interesting; overcoming them is what makes life meaningful.” — Joshua J. Marine
“Difficulties are meant to rouse, not discourage. The human spirit is to grow strong by conflict.” — William Ellery Channing
Throughout January, we're discussing LIMITS. For many of us, limit is a dirty word, one that tells you NO.
When I first flirted with the idea -- the dream -- of becoming an author, my mother talked me out of it. She said writers were a dime a dozen and earning a living at word-slinging would be next to impossible. So I sought out more pragmatic career choices, giving nursing school a shot before finally finishing college with a degree in computer science.
But the dream endured.
Eventually, in my late 30's, that dream simply refused to sit on the sidelines any longer. I began writing in earnest, finishing first a mystery and then a romantic suspense in my spare time, time spent waiting for my son to finish hockey practice or the hours after my shift-working husband left the house. Writing was a way to fight boredom but it ignited a spark in me that was probably there since birth.
Finishing Penalty Killer and Postpartum Deception showed me I could be a writer, that I had what it takes to develop characters, to plot, to revise, to deliver. That's great but to call myself an author?
That required publication -- something I long considered a limit.
*Note to self-published authors: For me, traditional publication had always been the dream. I mean no disrespect.
For me, publication was the limit on my dream of becoming an author. What hope did I have of getting published? I was a middle-aged woman trying to write fiction for teens, I never completed an MFA and the only professional writing I'd ever done was technical manuals. It seemed like the end of the road to me until I began reading paths to publication from authors I admire. I discovered many lacked the same credentials I thought were essential...yet still were published. My kids were the ones who said, "You don't know unless you try."
So I converted this limit into a challenge and approached it as I did any other challenge... through learning and practice and hopefully....eventually....mastery, though that word sounds egotistical. Our minds are marvelous contraptions. It's easy to fool ourselves -- far easier than I expected. By simply changing how I perceived this limit -- not as a negative, but as a positive -- a goal or an opportunity -- I was able to dive straight in to learning the publication process -- writing a query letter, finding an agent, selling a story, etc. I took workshops and webinars. I checked books out of the library. I joined a professional organization (RWA). I wrote countless drafts of a query letter. I researched agents in the mystery and romance sub-genres and began sending out the query letter version I thought worked best. I even got some interest.
It took years. In fact, it took writing another novel, a young adult novel I called SEND.
And in 2010, it happened. A query letter intrigued a literary agent who offered representation. In 2011, SEND sold to Sourcebooks Fire in a two-book contract.
I'd done it. I'd made a dream come true. But with the realization of that dream came additional limits. Book 2 in the contract was due in six months and I hadn't written it yet. It took me years to write the first one. Could I possibly do that in mere months and still hold on to my fulltime job?
Spoiler alert: yes.
I wrote during lunch breaks and whenever I had to wait for my sons at some practice or another. I wrote on weekends and after work. I wrote whenever and wherever I had a chunk of time. I used to wish for the day when I could quit my day job and just write full time. I'd be able to churn out 3 or 4 books a year if I could spend all day writing.
In 2015, I lost my job. We weren't in a position to go without my salary so I made a plan to spend all morning job-searching and all afternoon writing. I finished a full-length novel in 6 weeks! But you know what happened?
I was bored!
The writing process grew into a chore instead of a fun and creative escape from chores. When I had 5 or 6 hours to stare at my computer screen, I became blocked instead of more prolific. The limits on my time were, in fact, responsible for fueling my creativity. That was an eye-opening realization. I took a good long look at other aspects of my life that were limited and discovered similar characteristics. I was my own limit.
Travel: All my life, my movement and travel has been limited due to FEAR. I get lost easily so I was always afraid to go anywhere alone. If I couldn't travel with a friend, I simply didn't go. Then, technology improved and tools like map sites and GPS devices freed me from my self-imposed limits. Today, I can travel anywhere I need to go, alone.
Health: Like Mary, who wrote that her knees limited her, I'm dealing with a disease that can rob me of my mobility. I can't run, I can't wear heels, I can't climb stairs...yada, yada, yada. I started doing yoga and to my shock, I can once again reach my own toes.
The lesson here is not to look at limits as CAN'TS and DON'TS any more. Instead, look at them as opportunities to surprise yourself with what IS possible. For example, I still get lost and my health is still an issue. But it is possible for me to travel and it is possible for me to be active provided I use my personal limitations as guidelines, create a plan for moving within and then beyond those guidelines.
When I succeed -- and I almost always do -- the self-satisfaction is sweeter than I can ever describe.