Tuesday, May 25, 2010

A Single, Still Thought

Sharon Wildwind

Years ago, moving from being a mystery reader to a mystery writer hinged on a single, still thought: somebody, somewhere knew how the mystery-writing world worked, and I had to find them.

I’d read mysteries for forty years, but I had a nagging feeling that what I’d read previously included only a tiny slice of what was available. I started at my local library, picking books without looking at covers or reading jacket blurbs, but rather using a formula like “count in 32 books from where the mystery authors’ last names begin with G.” That's how I discovered Sue Grafton.

This was back where authors were only beginning to develop web sites, book trailers were unheard of, and Facebook was years in the future. Still I could parlay those random library selections into opening tiny doors by looking up authors and publishers on the Internet. Sometimes I’d even find them there.

The first big door cracked open when another mystery writer, with whom I’d shared a creative writing course years earlier, asked, “You’ve joined Sisters in Crime, haven’t you?”

Sisters in what?

I joined. After that, the deluge.

Fast forward about a decade and come to a screeching halt at the end 2008. Stacked precariously beside my bed was an unstable pile of magazines, a good two years worth of unread mystery journals. My single, still thought had become that too many blankety-blank people knew too much about how the mystery-writing world worked and it was time I fished or cut bait.

Who’d been mixing my metaphors?

Choice #1: if I wasn’t going to read them, I should stop subscribing to them. That would clear up space beside my bed, and I could use the subscription money to buy art supplies, but there were niggling feelings that those journals were actually useful and that I already had enough art supplies.

Choice #2: go back to reading them as my bedtime reading, which was the system that had worked fine for a few years. This was where I realized that I’d changed. I no longer found reading about other writers comforting and fun. In fact, my usual reaction to all that glossy promotion of other writers was to want to throw the magazine across the room. While I wasn’t watching, something mean-spirited and cynical had snuck into my life.

How come other people were getting the great book deals, the prime promotions, their books in advertisements in those magazines, and I wasn’t?

I realized I developed a case of plain, old-fashioned jealousy.

I gave myself permission to not read the magazines for a while, but didn’t give myself permission to stop subscribing to them. It took me a year to work through my feelings enough to get some perspective and come up with a plan.

By then I had a three-year unread stack teetering precariously beside my bed, but that was okay because I still had the single, still thought that one day, I was going to find a solution.

I finally realized there was a connection between my struggle with those pesky journals and a basic tool from Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. Her morning pages have a simple formula: Get Up/Write.

My choice #3 became Get Up/Read.

I realized that the last thing in the evening, when I was tired, was the absolutely worst time to deal with how other people were succeeding. All that did was make sure that my last thought before I went to sleep was that I must not have done enough with my day.

I get up and read those journals for fifteen minutes before I turn on the computer, before I read my e-mail, before I have tea, many days before the sun even comes up. I actually set a timer because on days I still don't want to contend with other people's successes, I can tell myself that I only have to do it for another twelve minutes—eleven minutes—ten minutes—. Anyway, you get the idea.

Every day I try to come away with one new author I might read, or one new idea I might try. It's a much more effective system than counting 32 books in, though that system did have it's merits.

Make no mistake, the jealousy is still there on some days, but now it’s accompanied by another single, still thought. I’ve got the whole day in front of me to be an active participant in the mystery-writing community. This where I belong, and I need to get on with doing whatever I need to do today, and let the future take care of itself.

Quote for the week:

Jealousy is simply and clearly the fear that you do not have value. Jealousy scans for evidence to prove the point - that others will be preferred and rewarded more than you. There is only one alternative - self-value. If you cannot love yourself, you will not believe that you are loved. You will always think it's a mistake or luck. Take your eyes off others and turn the scanner within. Find the seeds of your jealousy, clear the old voices and experiences. Put all the energy into building your personal and emotional security. Then you will be the one others envy, and you can remember the pain and reach out to them.
~Dr. Jennifer James, cultural anthropologist and motivational speaker


Elizabeth Zelvin said...

What a beautifully candid post, Sharon. I can identify, and I bet we're not alone. :)

signlady217 said...

Very thought-provoking. Thanks.

lil Gluckstern said...

I really enjoyed your post. Oddly enough, jealousy is often a clue as to what we might be yearning for. Somewhat we can reach for that, sometimes, not. But certainly, we must learn to value what we have-to use, and to offer.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the lovely comments.

Although the product is also important, this whole writer thing truly lives in being a process, and I think sometimes we forget that.