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Inspire or Perspire, Thoughts From An Old Determined Rookie

istock_000017878764xsmallThere were lots of Facebook messages this birthday. I enjoyed each one of them. It was part of the celebration, a veritable cyberspace party. And, I was surprised when I read that someone thought I was inspiring. Obviously they had just run out of verbs and that was the only one left. But then a couple more people wrote, “You inspire me.” Inspire? Me? Is this because I’m old or because it’s my birthday? It certainly can’t be because of some level of attainment. What is it that I do that inspires you? It got me thinking about where or how I might be inspirational in my life.

My writing journey is pretty inspirational, at least to me. For the past four years, I have been doing what musicians call “woodshedding,” the process of locking yourself in the woodshed and practicing until you can’t stand yourself anymore. That’s what I think it takes to become a good writer, and in my case a good novelist. I probably threw away more than half the words I wrote last year. So, is this what people mean by inspiring? Or is it possibly the definition of crazy? But I digress.

In January of 2016, I signed with my first ever-literary agent, and a really good one too. I thought, piece of cake. She’ll sell my book to a publishing house. My book will be released to thrilling accolades. Tom Hanks will call me and want to do lunch and I will wash, rinse, repeat and move on to my next novel.

It didn’t happen that way.

I’ve spent the past year learning to revise and rewrite my novel so that it is better. During that year there were some members of my writing community who told me “if the agent doesn’t like it this time, you should just stop.” But I couldn’t stop. How can you turn down the advise of someone who has been in the business for thirty years when you’ve just walked through the door? So I slogged away. I wrote, rewrote and revised, painstakingly correcting the rookie mistakes I’d made in my book. By the end of the year I was exhausted, but the last round of revisions finally made the agent’s cut.

I sometimes get frustrated with this culture of instant gratification, quick results and “it’s good enough” mediocrity. I think there is a special place in hell for self-help gurus whose only success criteria is money and things. And while I have never been a particularly patient person, I scoff at promises to write and publish your novel in 90 days, replete with revisions that take us mere mortals six months to a year to complete. What’s the old adage? Anything worth doing, is worth doing well, and I will add to that, to do it well, you need to slow the fuck down. 

And you know what I find really inspiring? The determination to be a viable writer at 65-years-old; making writing a second chapter career and coming face to face almost daily with 30-somethings who can get up earlier than me, write longer than me and have twenty years a head of them to work out the kinks in their craft. That being said, I’ve just started another novel.

Having mulled over the you inspire me comments written on my birthday timeline, I have come to this conclusion: We are all inspired by hard work, tenacity and the striving for personal best, regardless of age or anything else. I will never be a savant. I’m one of those poor schmucks who have to earn every page, every scene, and every chapter that I write. I don’t often get things right the first time, it takes me several. I’ve had to learn to be humble in the face of the competition, become a perpetual student and keep an upbeat attitude of gratitude throughout. Is it the positive attitude juxtaposed to unrelenting hard work that is inspiring to others?

I find deep satisfaction and purposfulness in doing the work of writing to the best of my ability and then pushing myself to do better work. Either I’m a masochist or maybe that narrative is what is inspiring to others.

What’s your take? Do you inspire? Does it happen by accident or is it deliberate? Please share your thoughts with me in the comment section.


Novelist, essayist, blogger, wife, dog-mommy, dancer, dreamer, grateful.

13 thoughts on “Inspire or Perspire, Thoughts From An Old Determined Rookie

  1. Hey Birthday Girl,
    I’ve lived with you for 28 years and your passion and commitment to always do your best inspires me. You never become complacent or settle for mediocrity. Now that’s inspiring!

  2. Happy Birthday! And congrats on your diligence and commitment. Keep at it! I’ve decided to focus on playwriting as my 2nd act and am going back to the basics with some courses.

    1. I love it that you are writing plays! Come to Ashland, Oregon for a summer visit and check out our Shakespeare festival–it’s a lot more than only the grand old bard. 😉

  3. I, too, always have to do things many times before getting it right and nothing comes “easy.” I have struggled and continue to work through this, but it DOES pay off in the end. I am one to get frustrated, want to give up completely, but end up taking the criticism that makes me feel like a failure as a drive to push me forward. I hate a challenge but cannot keep myself from wanting to prove the person wrong who questioned or doubted my abilities. I call myself a writer because I write and have a passion for it, but honestly I still feel like a child making an art show for my parents. I really just feel like my desire is important for me and pushes me to share things that are dear and heartfelt, but in actuality it feels like I am just playing a game of pretend. I hope to one day be proven wrong! I love your honesty and thank you for sharing! It is posts like this that are inspiring because you are expressing something to the world that not everyone is comfortable doing. I think vulnerability is always inspiring!

    1. Bless you! My favorite Robert McKee quote is “Do the work. Tell the truth. The results will follow.” The work is well, the work. It’s the hours of discovering and crafting the story. Tell the truth, that’s what you just named–vulnerability. And the things that make us feel vulnerable are the same things that are part of the universally human condition. I’d bet the farm that you have stories that are so important for you to tell, that you’d fight for them. Those are the stories worthy of your tenacity. Clearly you’re a good writer. Keep studying. Keep practicing. Keeping nurturing your passion. What doesn’t kill us will make us stronger. Big hugs fellow writer. Write on. Thank you for your heartfelt comment. I appreciate you.

  4. Congratulations on starting another book. It is said that many a journey starts with the first step…well, you know the rest…I think it’s also the easiest step! Good luck, and keep inspiring us!

  5. I’m torn between writing for myself and writing as an immortality project. It’s possible to do both. Unlikely but possible.

    Complacency is an enemy. You seem to be on the opposite end of that. I’m writing and studying writing. I finished my first novel a month ago. As I was writing it, I placed two of my four drafts online. Now the whole thing is finished and online. Only one or two people have bothered reading the whole book. I love the story. Makes a chap wonder if Emily Dickinson didn’t have the right idea after all.

    I wrote a review of a Stephen King book you might find useful. It obliquely addresses issues of success and complacency. Here’s the link.

    1. While I’ve never been a fan of the horror genre, I have great respect and admiration for Mr. King. He is a prolific and well-crafted author with an innate story telling talent that has captured the imagination of many. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

      1. I used the wrong word when I wrote “complacent.” I thought it was synonymous with a word like apathetic or indifferent (in the case of the particular book I thought he did not place much care in and wrote too quickly). I discovered that the antonyms for complacent are: unhappy, unsure, concerned, discontented, or dissatisfied. None of those is what I meant to say about you. I did not mean to offend you. I find your attitude to be refreshing, energetic, and optimistic. I’m impressed by you and your site.

      2. You obviously have a thoughtful reverence for words and their meaning. I share that passion. Words and emotions that lead to meaning–that’s my paint. Write on, friend.

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