Best advice ever, from a fabulous writer, Jeremy Owens. I confessed that I’m writing again, blogging again, and working on a book. The book is the reason I really put myself out there and applied for a residency at Write On, Door County. His message of, “Congratulations!” felt so good! And nearly undeserved.
Have you ever applied for something out of pure energy surge? Carpe Diem! That kind of thing? And then you get into the application and realize you need to ask for letters of reference when you haven’t published a damn thing in years? And you eat some chocolate, drink more hot coffee, and work up the nerve to ask legitimate people, people who have asked you for your writing talents, people who know you, people who have pushed you and encouraged you well outside your comfort zone for your own good? It’s exhilarating in the same way taking a new scary roller coaster feels. No, better (or worse). For me I felt like I got these new wings, I was at a cliff, and I had to trust myself to jump.
I asked good, strong, appropriate people for a letter of reference, pitching my project (now that I think about it) better than I pitched my project in the actual application. The waiting hurts a little. You send out all these hopeful wishes, watch them disappear out into the pale horizon, and then finally exhale. The long silence in between is a special kind of agony.
Perhaps you do this too: imagine all the mediocre adjectives you probably deserve, after all this time. It’s been too long to earn high praise. You’ve been working on your day job too much for anyone to know what a writer you are, and if your writing is worth a residency program. You hear words in your head like, “Adequate,” and, “Decent.” Your stomach flips a bit and these bully voices in your head chant things like, “You think you’re a writer, do you?” and “What are you thinking, idiot?” and “You’re a loser, you’re a loser, you’re a loser!” That’s when it’s time to take the puppy for a walk.
The first letter came back from an organizer of Wild Words, a collaboration between The Door County Land Trust and Write On. This person asked me to participate in this pecha kucha event for a few years now, and it was, in my mind, a great way to move back home. We’ve known each other for more than 20 years (it still itches to be able to say that) and we’ve been through a thing or two. What she wrote broke my heart, in that, “Why am I crying at this Hallmark movie?!” kind of way. She complemented and praised me as a person, a writer, and a community member in a way that someone who believes they are your sister brags about you. Words that jumped out to me were, “inspired,” “inspirational,” “role-model,” “without hesitation…” and so many more. Hardly the words the mean voices said.
Amateur tip: Don’t immediately reply to such a letter while your eyes are full of tears. Go for a walk, cry it all out, dry up, re-read, and then respond. Thank goodness we love each other enough we can laugh at my ridiculousness. I had to respond to my response with corrections and apologies a few times since SUM[Tears + Throbbing Heart O Joy] + Shaky fingers = [Typos + Odd Word Choices].
The second letter arrived late that Friday night from my dear friend and hero, Maggie Messitt. First of all, I was honored beyond honored that she took the time to write me a letter of reference. Secondly, when I saw it was two pages long, my jaw literally dropped. Not figuratively, literally. And then I actually read the letter. Picture me, in yoga pants and the slouchy sweater, in bed surrounded with pillows used as a soft makeshift desk, clutching my heart as I read the best campaign for the arts I have ever read. I had to grab tissues to wipe tears and blow my nose. Then I had to climb over the pillows, careful not to drop tears on my laptop, and go downstairs to plant myself near my husband. He’s an artist, who like most artists, fluctuates in confidence about the art world.
“Honey, I have to read you what Maggie wrote. You have to listen, OK. I mean it. This is really important,” I said with an urgency that riles people up to march for a cause.
By the time I finished reading the letter, I looked over to Dave, and he was wiping tears from his face with both hands.
“You’re right. I really needed to hear that. That… She’s… Maggie’s such an amazing writer and friend. Her words! How did she say all that so beautifully? How did she GET it so perfectly?”
And that’s what a fantastic writer does. That’s why we writers need to keep writing and honing our craft, not for ourselves, but for everyone out there, reading.
The Mean Voices didn’t go away, they are still there, challenging me, “So you think you can write this book?” and “Who the hell do you think you are?” And to them, I should go back to Maggie’s letter and recite out loud some of the hot buttons that made me hold my hand to my heart to keep it from leaping out of my chest and landing on my project. Words and phrases like, “Laura exudes the spirit we are seeking…,” “…most deserving, creative spirits I know…,” “…playing a critical role in community-building…,” “…importance of her voice…,” “Laura’s dedication to the creative life would serve as an inspiration to the community youth…,” and there is so much more.
With these words as my magic golden cuffs, I can summon the Wonder Woman in me and kick some serious butt, or punch those mean voices right in the face!
In the name of us writers, wielding the pen rather than a sword, let us be strong, vigilent, and heroic in our work. Keep fighting your mean voices. Keep writing! We can do it!