Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Horizontal and Vertical of Writing

Here's something I like about writing: It's not like running in the rat race as much as it's like finding your own little plot to till. It's not like climbing a career ladder as much as it's like being an artisan-entrepreneur, crafting and selling your own wares. Writing isn't about staying above the people on the lower rungs and hoping to surpass or knock off the people on the higher rungs---and I think the generosity among writers, especially children's writers, bears that out. Writing is about finding your place in the field of endeavor. About joining the guild. I don't know about you, but ever since high school graduation, when age stopped determining pecking order, I've wanted less of hierarchy and more of people simply finding their places and filling them. If you're at all familiar with 1 Corinthians 12, that's pretty much what I mean.

Some hierarchy is necessary, of course; we need authority at times, and need to respect it. As writers, we may place ourselves under teachers for a period of training, and we cooperate with and often submit to editors who help us make our work better. But generally, a ladder, race, or stair-step model doesn't really work for writing, or probably for any art. The only constant vertical relationship I have as a writer is with God. The rest is all horizontal. I work beside others, and share the journey with them, but while I work I'm not thinking about whom I can beat out or who's going to climb higher than I. I just try to write the stories I'm given to write, and learn as much as I can about achieving excellence in craft and marketing.

In The War of Art, Steven Pressfield touches on this topic and asks this question: If you were the last person on Earth, would you still be pursuing your activity? If the answer is no, he maintains, then that pursuit is not really your territory. You were doing it mainly to impress people, and now there's no one left. But if you'd still be doing it despite being the last person on Earth, because you were made to do it, then that pursuit is your territory.

I read a book by a man who told of his mother's lifelong heart's desire: to be a dancer. "Life got in the way," as we often say, and though she had a full and successful life in other ways, she never seriously pursued dancing. But after the woman entered a nursing home, grew very frail, and became more and more affected by dementia, her son found that whenever she had even a moment's chance to step out of her wheelchair, she would try to dance. She really couldn't do anything anymore, didn't even know her family members some of the time. She was, in a way, the last person on her Earth. And what did she do? She danced.

If I were the last person on Earth, I'd want a Bible, some books, a pad of paper, and a pen. And I'd pray, sing, read...and write. How about you?

19 comments:

Dawn Malone said...

*That was a beautiful post, Marcia. I'd like to think I'd be doing what I enjoy doing now: writing, taking walks, playing in the gardens.

Mirka Breen said...

Oh. Marcia. My goodness- thank you for this post. Can't remember the last time I so resonated to every line in a blog post. Frame-able!

Cynthia Chapman Willis said...

Such an interesting question. I know that if I was the last person on Earth, I would be writing and reading if at all possible.

Barbara Watson said...

Such depth to this post, Marcia. I would read, write, worship, and smile.

Marcia said...

Dawn -- I'd enjoy some garden play, too, but it would have to be someone else's. My gardening chops don't measure up. :)

Mirka -- Aw, thanks. :)

Cynthia -- Or making up stories in my head if not...

Barbara -- Smiling might come last, but yes, I believe that too would come. :)

inluvwithwords said...

Love this post, Marcia. This is beautiful: "The only constant vertical relationship I have as a writer is with God. The rest is all horizontal." And the woman who danced when she was out of her wheel chair - what an image. Thanks!

Larissa said...

What a lovely post, Marcia! I would have my computer, paper, pens, and photos. Scrapbooking and writing would sustain me. :)

Medeia Sharif said...

Fantastic post, Marcia. I like to think that no matter where I am in life, or with whom (or all by myself), I'd still be doing what I'm doing.

Marcia said...

inluv -- I know, I keep picturing the lady over and over as well. It's like glimpsing the essence of a person.

Larissa -- Scrapbooks makes me think of the ones my grandma kept. It fascinated me how carefully and perfectly she could cut!

Medeia -- I think as writers, no matter how hard it is or how much money we don't make, we have the blessing of feeling like we're doing what we're meant to do. So many people in other occupations would chuck it all in a second if they could.

Amy L. Sonnichsen said...

Marcia, this post is amazing. I've never heard that "if you were the last person on earth idea," but what a wonderful way to confirm your calling. And yes, absolutely I'd be writing. And singing. And reading God's word. Maybe we could be on the same desert island together. :)

Andrea Mack said...

Interesting post, Marcia. I'd be reading and interacting with animals (for company) as well as writing. Even when I think I'm taking a break from writing, I'm really not because my writing brain is still working.

Joanne said...

I'd be writing something, somehow, noting down life around me, with music playing too.

Marcia said...

Amy -- Sure, you're welcome on my island. Hmm, now we can tell each OTHER stories. :)

Andrea -- I love that the writing brain works even when we don't really think we're writing. I would like to have cats on my island. :)

Joanne -- Yes, the last person would HAVE to be taking notes, at least it seems so to me.

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

Lovely post, Marcia. I don't want to let life get in my way... I must do a better job at querying. I tend to query once, move on to something else and not go back and send manuscripts out to enough people.

Thanks for the reminder, Marcia. :D

Marcia said...

Sharon -- I spent too many years doing that same thing: not querying enough before giving up. I've decided no more!

Marcia said...

Sharon -- I spent too many years doing that same thing: not querying enough before giving up. I've decided no more!

Pam Torres said...

I really like the idea of getting out of the rat race. It is really true. Life begins when you truly find your passion. Some people spend their whole life wondering what their passion is...I feel grateful that I've found mine.

Marcia said...

Pam -- Thanks for visiting and following! I know; it's so sad when people spend their whole lives doing something they hate because they're not sure what else to do.

Sara Hill said...

What a touchingly beautiful post! And I see I am not the only one who felt it.

The War of Art. It's on my To Buy list. Is it worth it?