photo by Rhett Maxwell
photo by Rhett Maxwell

It’s interesting to note how people react to the idea of me writing a novel.

I don’t talk about my writing unless someone asks, and then, my answer is often colored by what I think that person wants to hear.

If the individual is a friend who’s a writer, reader, or an artist of any kind (which doesn’t necessarily mean they’re a professional artist, but have a love for creativity), I willingly talk, share, and listen for hours. And when this friend and I part, I inevitably feel changed – deepened – by my friend’s personal pursuit for a meaningful existence.

I also have acquaintances who almost always begin a conversation with, “How’s the book coming?” I think they mean well, but I’m learning that those folks are really just using the topic of the book as a conversation opener, much like talking about that day’s weather or how bad construction is on Pima Road. The novel is what I’m identified with, which, as long as I restrict my answer to something like, “Good,” or “Fine,” is kind of nice.

Then, there’s the person who’s a Challenger.

I met one of my Challengers the other day as I walked the dogs. She’s a woman I’ve known for a few years. When I’d last seen her during the holidays, I’d mentioned that I’d finished the first draft of the novel.

“How’s the book coming?” she now asked as I stood there with the dogs.

“Fine,” I replied. “I’m now moving forward, inch by inch, on revisions.”

She looked at me with a stupefied expression on her face. She was almost angry.

“What do you mean? Wasn’t the first time good enough?

There was a time, not so long ago, when her remark would have cut through to the bone. Anxiety would have tightened its steely grip around my heart. I would have felt extremely guilty for not having achieved more, and for not having done it perfectly the first time around.

Instead, what I experienced was a deep sense of joy within myself. I began to smile, and I couldn’t stop. It was a smile so big and so stupid that I fought the urge to jump up and down and point it out to her.

I tried to explain my process by creating an analogy to painting, where the first draft is a sketch, and revisions are where things like color, texture, and emotion are added. It is, I said, all about depth of story.

I don’t think she understood a single thing I said, but that’s okay. It’s not my job to convert her, or teach her, or persuade her to think in any other way. Right now, my job is to go deeper within myself and take all the time I need, to tell my story the best way I know how, without forgetting to take joy from every minute of creating.

Each day, I live more and more for the big, stupid smile.

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