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Thursday, June 30, 2016
When Dreams Die
Ballet is a great love of mine, though not a great talent. I didn't dance as a child (other than one semester-long stint when I was 6) or as a young adult (other than a requisite year of dance at college, as part of my music degree requirements). For many reasons, all deeply personal, I fell in love many years later, all grown up and firmly entrenched in "stiff" and "not graceful".
After dancing once a week for a year or more, I came to the conclusion that, if I wanted to really progress, I would have to dance a heck of a lot more than that. So I ramped up to three classes a week. I set goals for myself. I thought, okay, I have no desire (or ability) to dance professionally; this is just for me. But I want to be the best I can possibly be, so I'm going to work hard.
And I did. I still do.
It'll be almost four years since I've begun my adult ballet adventure, and, well, it just isn't happening for me.
Four years, and I still can't do a decent single pirouette. Four years, and I still don't look like a dancer. Four years, and I still have an incredibly hard time learning new steps and putting combinations together.
Four years, and I'm nowhere near being able to start pointe classes.
Sometimes it frustrates me to tears. And sometimes I rise above it, pull on my leotard, and dive in without thinking too hard about how bad I am at this.
My burning desire to truly succeed, though, has faded. I've come to the gradual and heart-squeezing realization that dancing is not something I will ever do really well. I actually hate this. Hate admitting it. Hate owning it.
Don't get me wrong--I'm not being self-deprecating here, and I'm not allowing momentary frustrations to defeat me. I'm walking in the reality that I AM NOT MEANT TO BE A DANCER.
It might seem silly to you. I mean, after all--who aspires to something like ballet when she's all grown up and WAY past the tender age when real dancers are born? But it was never about wanting to be a "real dancer" (I don't). It was about wanting to succeed as an adult dancer. To be able to walk into an empty studio, turn on something from The Nutcracker, and dance my heart out. Even if nobody saw me (especially then). Even if I had to choose simpler steps, slower tempi. Even if I were the only one who saw any value in what I was doing.
But it's not happening. And I don't see it happening. Ever. I'm getting older, not younger. And I'll continue to go to my ballet classes, because...well, I love them. So much. But my ballet dream, which once burned so bright, has died.
In other words, reality hit.
And, yanno, for all these years that I've been blogging my heart to the writing world (I love you so), I've always said "Never give up!" and "Keep your eye on your dreams!" and "Keep writing! And writing and writing and writing!"
I'm not reneging on any of that. You've got to keep going and you've got to keep writing, because it's in you, and you love it, and words crowd themselves into your brain every day until you have no choice but to spill them out.
But I finally have to admit that sometimes...sometimes...someone's out there writing their little heart out, and it's just never going to happen. The passion is there, and the commitment, and the endless story ideas. But regardless of how long he's been at it, there doesn't seem to be any forward movement. He writes, but he doesn't excel.
And that doesn't mean STOP WRITING any more than my lack of ballet gifting means STOP DANCING. It does mean, though, reexamining your goals. It might be--it just might be--that your writing is like my ballet. You are completely committed and absolutely in love with the idea of being a writer...but publication is not, after all, the path you should pursue.
This is a highly personal decision, and I would never presume to tell any writer what his goals should be. If you write, then you are a writer, and you always will be. You're never too young or too old to write. I would never council anyone to quit writing. But if you've been trying for fifteen years to get published, and you haven't been able to land an agent--or even to garner a full request or two--then it may be time to reset your expectations.
To write because you love it, and not because you are seeking to write professionally. To lose yourself in the joy of your own creations without worrying, anymore, what the industry has to say about it.
Write for the sheer pleasure of writing, regardless of what is flowing out of your proverbial pen.
And then there's me. I've got an (amazing) agent. I've honed my craft and have received such glow-y comments from editors that I'm left scratching my head as to why they still say "no" to the book.
Unlike ballet, writing is something I do well. I'm still growing (writers who stop growing should probably stop writing, yes?), and still honing. But I am finally at a place where I'm confident in my ability to write a marketable book.
Yet here I sit. Still waiting.
And if I'm perfectly, brutally, bare-my-soul honest, I've got to say that my dream has died. I keep writing because it's what I do. I've come this far, and I'm not going to just throw it all away. My agent is excited! Engaged! And incredibly encouraging! (She's incredible in so many ways--I should really showcase her here so you can all see how wonderful she is.)
I don't think I've ever experienced the level of enthusiasm and gut-level BELIEF IN ME that I get from Danielle. And it definitely counts for a lot. Every single day.
But my dreams? They're yesterday. I actually go days at a time without giving a second thought to the fact that we're on submission. (This is a stark contrast to the way I used to HANG on the hope that today, today, today, today I'll hear something good!) I just...write. I work hard, I take it seriously. I'm UTTERLY IN LOVE with my new WIP, and I'm pressing forward.
In so many ways, this is easier. Kind of like Data with his emotion chip turned off. But in some ways, it's sad. Writing without dreams feels like dancing without music.
Still. We do what we can, and we do what we must. I can't afford to dream anymore. I just need to keep writing. Because, unlike ballet, it's what I'm meant to do.
I really do believe that.
So wherever you are in your own journey, KEEP WRITING. It's not the writing that needs to go! But it may be something else. A goal, an expectation. A dream. You can write without those things and still derive joy from what you're doing.
Always take the time to reevaluate, remembering to give yourself grace in the process. Writing is hard. The arts as a whole are hard! But we who create have no choice but to keep doing so, regardless of where those creations ultimately lead us.
Take heart. Keep writing. And thank you for always, always, always offering me your support. When my debut hits the shelves, you'd better believe that this wonderful MSFV community will be included on the acknowledgements page.
Oh, wait. That sounded like a dream...