Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.
I need this today.
This picture hadn’t surfaced long before spreading to national and international popularity:
The back story, as I understand it, is that Christopher, a young boy with Down syndrome had the chance to meet his idol Adam Levine, after Monday night’s Maroon Five concert in DC. The event proved to be so overwhelming for him, that he ended up on the floor with a panic attack. Unfazed by this, the band, along with local radio DJ Intern John, decided to lay down on the floor with him to make him more comfortable. Their whimsical and loving gesture helped to restore him to a place of peace, and no doubt made the evening an even more special memory for Christopher and and his family. The story is a heartwarming one for sure, but even more than that, this story provides a powerful metaphor about what love looks like.
I don’t just mean loving your friends, loving a cuddly baby, or loving your significant other. I mean loving those who are more difficult to love, or maybe who have nothing to offer in return except for laying on the floor. The world is full of people who have been marked by stigma: those with special needs, the mentally ill, the homeless, the depressed, those who self-harm, those who have been outcast and abused in all forms, and the list goes on. Love means being blind to stigma. Love means if you can’t stand up to greet me, I will lay down on the floor so I can greet you.
I remember a speaker during my church’s missions week a few years ago describing a tour of a slave ship. She described the hellish, death-ridden, torturous conditions that existed in the hold of a slave ship. She went on to describe a chapel that was directly above the slave hold, and she was haunted by the idea that slaves below would hear a worship service above them, even as they suffered and died below. Her point was this: the place of Christ’s followers in a suffering world is to be metaphorically below deck, sleeves rolled up, caring for those who are suffering, where it is dark and messy and painful and smelly and difficult. This is how Jesus loved.
Jesus said in Matthew 25:40: “As you have done it to the least of my brothers, you did to me.” This means there is no least. The concept doesn’t exist anymore. This means that even if someone is considered “least”, treating them as though they were the greatest. And really what illustrates that more than a world-famous rock star, taking a few minutes to relax on the floor next to a scared boy with Down syndrome?
And this guy was my mine.
The arrival of March vaguely marks the sixth month anniversary of my career change to from a teacher who writes to a writer who teaches. Working part-time to pursue any passion on a freelance basis is a risk, but I don’t think any dreams in life are achieved without a little bit of crazy. Since the start of this venture, I’ve had four publications, started writing short stories for the first time, and have made very slow progress at novel edits. In six months I’ve had thrilling moments like a manuscript that was accepted within an hour of submission, and then the what-am-I-even-doing-with-my-life moments of despair. And if I’m honest, the ratio tips heavily in the latter’s favor. However, recently I’ve realized what a sharp learning curve the last six months have yielded. Two months in I felt like I had failed. Six months in I can see that I was only just learning the ropes. So for what it’s worth, here are six lessons I’ve learned about writing freelance:
1. It’s very much a job.
Transitioning from writing as a hobby to writing as a job requires the confidence to be able to say, “I’m working right now.” I used to feel guilty about protecting writing time as work time, but I’m a writer and I’m my boss. There’s no shame in that.
2. The importance of planning and admin meetings with myself.
Earlier on, I used to write willy-nilly or focus on one project at a time.I had a vague “to-write” list of ideas, but most of them were cold queries and I could get overwhelmed easily. Now I track each submission on a spreadsheet, and I have a weekly project list and a longterm ideas document. I am subscribed to the Morning Coffee newsletter, which emails lists of calls for submissions and freelance jobs. Beyond your Blog and Writing Career are two other sources that I check regularly.
3. Inspiration is urgent.
Sometimes projects can and should be interrupted when inspiration for another idea strikes. During Christmas break, I worked almost exclusively on a short story. The finished product is a piece that I’m proud of, and I am working now to polish it for whatever its final destination is. Maybe I missed the opportunity to send out some queries, but projects like that are the reasons I am writing in the first place.
4. Follow up!
Track dates of submissions and follow up when too much time has passed. In the age of digital submissions in particular, emails get lost in the quicksand of an editor’s inbox. However, a simple and polite follow-up email can either give a definitive “no” or prompt a promising reconsideration. This has led to publication at least once or twice for me.
4. Not-writing can be just as important to writing as writing.
Take moments to live and experience and be inspired keeps ideas fresh. Learning, traveling, spending time with friends, and teaching have all been so crucial to writing. Even as teaching competed for writing time this year, it has also supported the writing process. Teaching is both a passion and a high calling. My students inspire me everyday as they teach me about life and about myself. In those what-am-I-doing-with-my-life moments this year, they have inadvertently and obliviously managed to keep me smiling and sparked determination to keep fighting for my dreams as well as theirs.
5. Keeping the long term in mind.
I never thought I would find consolation and encouragement from watching the pilot of Better Call Saul, the Breaking Bad prequel starring Bob Odenkirk. Entertained, yes. Saul Goodman is a treasure. (Image source)
Yet, seeing the corrupt lawyer in his down-on-his-luck days, going from rejection to rejection, working out of a closet in a nail salon, prompted a strange, yet important realization about the last six months. Writers, artists, musicians or anyone pursuing their craft as a career, have no idea what the future holds, but we fight for it anyway. In many ways, these early stages are like a prequel. We have to believe in something intangible, even something that seems crazy to others. Here’s the hard part for me: I need to believe in it more than anyone. People have been incredibly supportive and encouraging along the way, but ultimately I can’t rely on that. I tend to be my own biggest critic and the loudest doubter, but I’m learning to ignore that.
I took this picture in August after submitting my final grad school paper. That was when I had my first official admin meeting with
myself Writing Boss Erin. I sat at a little coffee shop looking at this view:
I think my ideas about the future were a little more rosy than the reality, and yet the life experience, the rejection, the self-administered peptalks, the waiting and the doubt have all been more valuable teachers than if someone had handed me a book contract on a silver platter. Here’s to the next six months!