Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Creative Writing is a Beach Ball

I wish I’d kept my first rejection letter.

It’s sort of like framing your first earned dollar bill (yes, I’m old enough to have had $1.00 bills in my wallet).

I’ve been asked in recent years if I’d kept that first letter, and I can only offer my best rueful smile/self-deprecating shrug in response.

But no, I was deep in the throes of a teen-aged fiction writer funk after my stunningly-brilliant creation was rejected. It never occurred to me to keep the letter.
It was a gem, too: photocopied crooked by a machine low on ink. I suspect the editor’s signature was also photocopied. A keep-sake if there ever was one—on so many levels. Alas.
Hey, I was 13 at the time. You don’t make your best life decisions during the early stages of puberty.

I started high school a year later. Despite the Department of Education’s cruel practice of adding Grade 13 to the timeless purgatory known as secondary school, there were exactly zero—ZERO—classes offered in creative writing. So, after a dubious attempt at one (1) short story in grade nine, my only notable output during five years of high school was this haiku:
School really bugs me
My freakin’ English teacher
Makes me write haikus
But writing is kinda like a beach ball. You can try to shove it underwater—out of sight and out of mind—but it eventually and inevitably escapes its watery dungeon and bobs to the surface once again.

I originally enrolled in the “RTJ” program in college: Radio, Television & Journalism. I went there with some vague idea of emulating Dr. Johnny Fever from WKRP in Cincinatti. I really enjoyed being a DJ on the college radio station. I also became fascinated with the Television section of the course. The last thing on my mind—grudgingly done only because it was required—was journalism.

Yet somehow, with far less interest and work ethic than my Radio & Television classes, guess where my best marks kept showing up?
I felt like Lady MacBeth: “Out, damned spot beach ball! Out, I say!”
Fast forward a couple of years, to a different college in a different province. Without planning it, guess who ends up writing an article or two for the college paper? And the following year, becomes the editor?
You’d think the sight of a brightly colored beach ball punching its way to the surface—repeatedly—would eventually qualify as a “sign”. Some of us aren’t as swift of wit as others…
I managed to shove the beach ball down again. Looking back, it’s both fascinating and a little disturbing to realize how much my first rejection letter controlled my view of writing: Not good enough.

Ten years later, a visiting prophetic dude from Kansas City—not knowing me from a hole in the wall—says: “you put down the pen because you felt your best efforts weren’t good enough, but you’re going to start writing again…” Aside from my beautiful wife Wendy, nobody in the room had any idea I was hiding a beach ball.

Seven years passed before I started blogging. Things went well for the first few years—I was even “discovered” and became a published author. The beach ball had arrived again with a big splash.

Then the marketing department torpedoed the book, and that (I thought at the time) was the end of it. Beach ball deflated.
In hindsight, I should’ve recognized the symmetry with the original rejection letter. But again, I was in a writer-blocked funk and tossed the beach ball away.
Fast forward another four years. The beach ball ambushed me again, like a oceanic saltwater slap in the face. And this time—finally—I surrendered. And I’ve been writing ever since.

Your gift may not be creative writing. But if there’s a beach ball of creativity/passion that you keep squelching because of (fill in blank as necessary), learn from my story.

Give up. Surrender. Embrace it. Pursue it as if your life depends on it.
Don’t mess with the beach ball. It’s relentless and will not be silenced.

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