When I told my high school career guidance counselor that I wanted to be a writer, he suggested that I teach English or become a journalist, since creative writing wasn’t a financially prudent career choice. I’ll admit this was back in the 1970’s, when career options open to women were basically as a wife, secretary, nurse, teacher or beautician. I really wanted to be an archaeologist, but no one I knew in Kansas City was one so I didn’t know how to go about asking for direction or advice.
In the end, I sort of opted to follow both suggestions. I started J-School at the University of Missouri then transferred to Secondary Education/English Literature and finished my B.S. at Boston University. I never actually worked at either job although I did get trained for it. After graduating with zero money in the bank, I took the best paying position I could find as a financial typesetter (my eighth grade typing class finally came through for me, thank you, Mr. Beltrim) and I’ve been earning a living ever since.
Meanwhile, I never stopped writing.
I began with a journal and a handful of poems, learning to weave heartfelt words into meaning before graduating to short stories. I distinctly remember pausing on a Nantucket corner one gray morning and realizing it was time to write a book. Even scarier, a mystery series. The concept filled me with hope and terror. I didn’t know if I could do it. I knew I had to try.
In the following years, life has offered a bushel of blessings and challenges. I didn’t handle the initial challenges well, but I learned from them, which was actually the lesson. I came up with seven guiding rules:
1. Do the work.
2. Follow the directions.
3. Ask for help.
4. Follow up and follow through.
5. Say thank you.
6. Cherish your friends.
7. Keep it real.
These seven rules have guided me for decades. Lately, though, I’ve been noodling around with adding an eighth one:
Keep it creative.
This one is hard and I’m still on the fence about whether it’s truly a rule or a principle. It’s been a struggle staying optimistic in 2020. Change always comes with a cost and it’s easy to fall back into stale thought patterns when meeting challenges in our lives and in our world. Familiarity is our comfort zone, our safety net, but repeating the same action and anticipating a different outcome is the definition of insanity, which is why I think working from home is making me nuts. (Which day is it? Which week?) I’ve decided that no matter what a creative response is the only response that will work.
An artist friend of mine, Michel Tsouris took the COVID-19 quarantine as an opportunity to create The Isolation Series, painting eighty new works while sheltering in place and offering a drive-by art gallery exhibition. That’s thinking outside the box. (Search michel_tsouris on Instagram to see her paintings. They're amazing.)
Realizing that I should also look at quarantine as an opportunity, I committed to editing a chapter a day of my WIP, promising to finish the editing by the end of May. I’m delighted to report that my fourth mystery novel is with my beta readers now.
Dr. Wayne Dyer said: ‘Change the way you look at things and the things you look at change.’
What’s been your response to quarantine isolation, good or bad? How are you keeping it creative, and sane?