In 2005 I was on the verge of a turning point, but I didn't know it. I was sort of floundering around with my pursuit of a book-writing dream.
I told myself I was working hard. I wrote a couple of days a week. I thought about writing a lot. Truthfully, I thought about being published a lot. I had very vivid daydreams of winning awards and receiving awesome book deal advances. Also, spending book deal advances. Mostly, though, I was spinning my wheels, not making any real progress, treating writing as a hobby rather than as my work.
Then, a very serendipitous thing happened. In the same week I had a story accepted in the magazine Cicada and I got a brochure in the mail inviting me to attend a retreat put on by the Highlights Foundation.
What would you do if you had the time to write... no distractions... no responsibilities... Just you and your lap top. You'll stay in your own cabin and all of your needs will be taken care of... You'll eat delicious food prepared by a chef. You'll meet other serious writers on the same journey...
I don't remember the exact words printed on the brochure, but it was something like that, and it struck me to the core. Oh, yes, I would like that.
And get this: the cost of the retreat (which was somewhat pricey and hard for me to justify) was EXACTLY the amount of the payment I'd just received for my Cicada story.
I'm no dummy. I know a freaking sign when I see one.
I went. It was my first time away from my family (the kids were 8 and 12 and I was a stay-at-home mom). It was the first time I'd been alone since college.
To say I was anxious is an understatement.
The hardest thing was the first night when our small group made our introductions. Simply saying I wanted to be a writer almost made me start crying. For all of my supposed pursuing of a dream, I hadn't said these words out loud to anyone in years.
The week pretty much changed my life. Not in a magical way. I didn't return home with a finished manuscript that would win an award (although, that particular manuscript is something that I continue to work on, and hey, who knows?) I didn't snag an agent or a book deal right away. In fact it would be many years before this would happen.
What this retreat did do for me was remind me that I was, in fact, a writer. That I was not alone in my quest. That my dream was not some ridiculous thing no matter how impossible it might seem at times.
Here is what I wrote in my journal while I was there:
Seeing these writers and editors makes me so hopeful about what I picture myself doing. I keep thinking that it is a possible life for me, if I keep pursuing it.
Tonight I called home and my son asked me if I liked it here or if it was terrible. I said it was wonderful, that I loved it. “Are you going to go back there next year?” he asked. “I’d like to,” I said. “Would that be alright with you guys?”
He laughed. “We’re doing okay, you know. And I like eating poptarts.”
I am thinking about this retreat because in two days I am going back.
I am in a different place now in my writing and personal life. My son is in college--just to put time in perspective. My teen daughter will be off doing her own thing. I am sure they will both be gorging on the forbidden poptarts while I'm gone. I've got my first book coming out this year. I received a nice advance check for that (mostly, already spent). I do think of myself as a writer and I am not afraid to say that anymore. (Maybe I say it too much?)
But here is what is the same: I still feel anxious about what I do. I still have so much to learn about craft and technique and voice and language. I still enjoy connecting with other writers and hearing about their stories and their journeys.
So that is why I signed up to go.
It may be that I am on the verge of another amazing turning point. I'll let y'all know when I come back...