When I was a little girl, after I got through my “I want to be President” phase, I wanted to be a lawyer. (True story.) But that was something in the future so I concentrated on the present in front of me. My immediate goal was to learn how to be a majorette. I wanted to twirl a baton.
So I learned. I never got to a performance-quality, but I was young. 🙂 I moved on to cheerleading for the local Suburban League team that my brother played on, and I did well with that, I think.
Well enough that I tried out for the team in junior high. I didn’t make the squad, and that was an ouch for my psyche, but I realized something then that I have carried with me ever since:
Artistic success is dependent upon more than the skill of the artist.
Let’s face it: Junior High cheerleading is a popularity contest. I wasn’t popular. And I was okay with that. Would I have liked to have been? Sure. But, I understood that it wasn’t my cheerleading skills that were at fault in my non-selection. It was the popularity factor.
In High School, I was on the speech and debate team. I did well. But I was coached by a woman wise in the politics of such things that there was more going on in the judging than the quality of the speakers who competed. Placement in the rounds, opinions, individual tastes, all played a role in whether or not a speaker won or took a disappointing second place. I took a lot of first place trophies, but I never made it to Nationals.
When I went into teaching, I knew myself to be a total “newbie” but I had done well in my student teaching, by and large, and had confidence in myself. That confidence was shaken when I found that, as in areas of creative endeavor, more than the skill (and enthusiasm) of a teacher is involved with their success. If a principal decides to take issue with something, the career of a non-tenured teacher can disappear. It can be ugly or peaceful, but it can be ended.
This shocked me. That I could be good at something that wasn’t “artistic” and still fail? The stress of that year was incredible, but I emerged intact. 🙂
The shock gave me a certain kind of freedom. The freedom to know that I can fail and still understand I did a good job (to a point). The freedom to know that I can invest myself in something and walk away from it if I have to for my own peace of mind.
This is a huge freedom. It may sound odd, but it is.
As a novelist, I know I have come across to some as being unfeeling. I have a thick skin when it comes to my work, I know. After my first-ever bleeding manuscript, I learned that I can learn and improve and still work at something. As a matter of fact, the only time I seriously considered stopping my efforts in becoming a published novelist was when I found a book in a store on a shelf whose hero had the same name as the hero I had just written an entire novel about. This book was published by the same publisher I was hoping to be published by, in the same genre.
That, for me, was devastating. Because I felt that I wasn’t creative enough to succeed and it would have been my own fault for lacking the imagination to begin with.
However, daunted though I was, I didn’t give up. I tried to rewrite the book with a different name. As many authors may attest, this turned out to be ridiculous. The character was who he was and, though I changed his name and a few things related to that name, I never could submit it for publication.
But there were other stories in me.
Some of them, I’ve even published.
And I can do so, knowing I will have readers who don’t get what I’m saying, knowing that I’m failing somewhere for someone in how I tell a tale, but. . .
It’s okay. Because I can invest myself in that story while I write it and then I can walk away from it and work on the next project. Or three. And even when people have said I was wasting my education or that I was never going to make a success of my writing (because they have – and even if they don’t remember it, I do) or that I should do something more practical—well, I knew that my artistic success wasn’t grounded in that. It’s about how I feel about what I am writing and how I have improved compared to my own body of work.
So I don’t agonize over submissions. I watch the calendar, but I don’t fret. Because I am not responsible for how my work is received – only for how I created it. And if I succeeded at that, by my own standards, it’s all I really want.
I don’t know if I would have understood that without the losses of my youth or the support of my family. Just goes to show that all of life’s experiences can be used to the good if one is willing to learn from them.