December 24, 2020
Between economic worries and health worries, this year has been tough for a lot of us. Some writers have simply found that the weight of the worry seriously hurt their ability to create. Worry can crowd out everything, including creativity. Unfortunately many of these worries are still pressing on us and thinking about goals for the coming year can feel impossible. How can I know what I'll create when I don't know what's going to happen all around me? All of that is legitimate. It's been hard, but sometimes it's during the hardest moments that we must keep the tightest hold on hope.
Most of us know the story of Pandora, but in case you don't, I'll recap. Pandora was a person burning with curiosity (I can relate.) This guy named Zeus was mad because one of his dastardly plans was thwarted, so he gives Pandora a box and tells her not to open it. She tried. Truly. But it was a truly cool box and who knows what could be in there? (Again, I can relate. Please, don't give me anything and tell me not to open it. Eventually I will crack.) And thus Pandora did. She opened the box and all manner of nasty bits flew out into the world. She did manage to keep one thing. Hope. And the story ends when Pandora releases that into the world as well, because it was the best thing she had to give.
These days, it feels a bit like someone somewhere is handing out boxes full of grief to people. And some of those people are writers. But remember Pandora. Her box was filled with grief, but the more valuable thing offered a weapon and a shield for all the other things. As writers, hope isn't simply something we need to find and cling to, it's something we need to pass on.
Hope Is Smart
The basis of hope is change. All things change, and that includes bad things. The things we worry about right now are real and worrisome, but they will also change, simply because change is a universal constant. And hope prepares us to produce and even thrive during the tough times, because those times will change, and we will have the stuff ready to succeed when the change comes.
For instance, I do considerable writing for the educational market, and that market is struggling right now for a number of different reasons, all of which are subject to change in the new year. So right now, I'm not seeing an inpouring of work. But that will change because change is a universal constant. So when the educational markets are back on their feet and ready to work, they're going to end up needing a lot of writing. And I need, right now, to be ready for that. So I'm working on my samples, updating my resume, researching the publishers I want to work with, and working on proposals. Because I know change is coming, and I will be ready for it. Accepting change as the universal constant is foundational in energizing hope.
This is Temporary
As adults, we know a lot of unpleasant things are temporary. The morning sickness I had when I was pregnant was not going to last for the rest of my life. Potty training my daughter would eventually succeed. I would eventually make it through the line at the DMV. Motion sickness on an airplane flight would end when we land. I recognize the temporary nature of so many unpleasant experiences. So do you. If you took a moment you could list dozens if not hundreds of unpleasant things in your life that eventually ended. And in each of them, the end did not come fast enough at the time, but it came just the same.
During unpleasantness, I try to do several things. I visualize what it will be like when this is over. I imagine myself looking back on it as I have looked back on so many hard times in my life. That helps ease the panicky feeling and worry that drains my creative well. Then, I plan for that moment when things are going to get better. What will I be doing? And from there, I deduce what I could be doing now to make that end point better and more productive. I keep it doable. When I stand in the line at the DMV, I realize that within hours, I will be home with a cup of tea, grousing about the line. It will be over. So I prepare to make it as quick as possible. I go through exactly what I want when I reach the front of the line. I made sure my papers are in order. I plan my side of the conversation so I know I can be quick and clear. I plan because I know I won’t be in the line forever, and I want to be ready when the unpleasantness of waiting ends.
So, let’s say I'm a writer who is really bummed that Highlights for Children closed for submissions or an agent I liked wasn't adding clients during the pandemic. By mixing hope into the situation, I could simply spend more time studying Highlights and writing the most amazing Highlights story ever. And then polishing it, getting someone to read it and critique it, polishing it more. All without the pressure of sending because it won't be sent until things change. In the case of the agent, I have time to study the books that agent has shepherded to publication and the writers she already represents and contemplate what that says about her. I have time to dig and research until I know the things she loves in a book. And I can make sure my book will meet some of her manuscript wishes. (Or I’ll find a different agent who does). And when things change, I’ll be ready to submit my manuscript. I will do this because I know things will change. Things always change. Maybe I do the same thing with all my works in progress, using this time to put myself in the best position when change comes. Hope lets me do that.
So whatever other goals you have to 2021, approach them with the number one goal already in place: hope. Things will change. Are you ready to succeed when the doors of opportunity open? If not, fill that goal list with all the things you need to get ready.
Because change is coming. It's a sure thing, 100%.
Jan Fields is a former Institute of Children's Literature Instructor and a full-time, freelance author.
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