A while back, my favorite Facebook group, 10 Minute Novelists, sponsored a chat called “Do We Ever Give Up?” It wasn’t the usual hour of encouragement, cheerleading, and advice. It was, however, a message I needed to hear. What happens when you pour your soul into writing and realize that maybe this isn’t the thing for you? What happens when your dream dies? How do we let go? How do we mourn?
I spend hour after hour thinking about my novel. Writing my novel. Researching my novel. Dreaming about, obsessing over, editing, loving, hating, and otherwise experiencing my novel. I have eight more in mind after this one, and I wonder how I’ll survive it. It’s become so all-encompassing.
But I realized something. Being a novelist wasn’t always my dream. Not at all. I have held and let go of several dreams. I dreamed of being a musician, but frankly I didn’t have the ambition and work ethic, even though music came easily to me. I suppose that’s called talent, but I think that makes me sound better than I was. I went to music college after high school and promptly burned myself not. Not because I wasn’t “talented” per se, but because my personal life was in shambles. I was 18 and had emerged from a home where alcoholism and abuse were my normal, so I sought out that bad normal as a musician as well. Now, you may think that angst and madness go well with being a musician, but I would point out the graves of musicians who took their own lives and beg you to reconsider such an idea.
I gave up that dream, but it wouldn’t quite die, because I made the mistake of marrying a fabulous, shredding guitarist. He plays and he doesn’t even realize how he stokes my flames. Sexy guitar players do that, you know–make you want to play with them. Yes, I mean all the entendres. But I digress.
After the disappointment of music school, I created a bucket list full of dreams. I would get a PhD in history and be a professor. I would travel through Europe. I would learn to ice skate and play in a hockey game. No, I’m not kidding. The bucket was full. Unfortunately, my pocketbook was empty. A bad marriage and a divorce led me hopscotching down the road to poverty.
My mistakes. My regrets. My idiocy. All of this kept my bucket full and unfulfilled.
But there’s nothing that empties a bucket faster than a diagnosis.
I’m 49 and I’m a heart patient. I have coronary artery disease with multiple stents holding my arteries open and I have issues with diabetes and other words I don’t like typing. It sucks. I’m tired a lot, which has put the brakes on much of that bucket list.
First to go was the hockey. Okay, that was easy to let go, quite honestly.
Graduate school was much harder. It still tempts me, but I just can’t. It would be good for my teaching career… but I just can’t. That hurts. I always fancied myself a scholar. I also fancy myself able to function, able to keep a job, to be a wife and mother. Graduate school would tip the scales too much. I just can’t, and it breaks my heart.
I had hoped that my involvement with the Society for Creative Anachronism would be a worthy substitute for graduate school. It has been a disappointment. I didn’t have the money or time to invest in it, and as time has gone on, I didn’t have the energy, either. I spent twenty some-odd years on the fringes of historical reenactment, on the outside looking in, watching that dream slowly fade from view. I stick around, though, because there are wonderful people involved and we have a lot of fun. I’m kind of used to being on the fringe of it now, and it’s okay.
I started writing my novel two and a half years ago. It was nothing more than wish fulfillment. I used to role play in virtual worlds like Second Life, and I missed the characters I created. Especially the charming rogue named Giovanni. My other character, the one most like me, was Breila. Since I always called her the part-time princess, her name became Sarah. Thus, I built my series’s main characters.
How this inauspicious start turned into ideas for a score of novels, I couldn’t begin to tell you. Overactive imagination, long commute, insomnia. Something like that.
It was fun, though, imagining their friendship becoming love. The little dramas that played out in my head. Then, when I decided to incorporate time travel and drop them into the historical settings I had studied and loved so much, the wish fulfillment was maximized.
It didn’t require much energy.
It didn’t cost much money.
It didn’t necessitate much in the way of social skills. (Until I have to market it… then… oy vey…)
Writing became the way to let my other dreams go. Not so much buried in the ground as released into the stars, fireflies into the night. They didn’t die, so much as they changed.
Like my body.
We grow and we change, and our expectations of life change with us. We need to be open to that. Not necessarily give up our dreams, but to be open to the possibilities our desires present.
I’m not a professional historian, but I’m a history teacher and I write history novels and do the necessary research. Maybe I’ll use that research and write papers for the Society for Creative Anachronism. These are new dreams. Very fulfilling dreams. They keep me going.
Maybe people will read and enjoy the novels, and I can leave something behind of myself. I don’t need fame or fortune, but when someone says, “Oh man, I love Sarah and Giovanni,” I feel unbelievably warm and happy. I love them too. They’re a part of who I am. They’re my dream. And if God grants me enough days to finish their story, then they’re my legacy, too.
We don’t give up, we evolve. We understand ourselves and appreciate who are. We respect ourselves well enough to adjust our dreams to the people we are becoming. And whatever we ultimately decide those dreams are, I believe that we should never, ever, give them up.