Keep the Juice in the Lemon
When I was 32 years old I told a close friend that I wanted to be a professional writer. He said, “If you haven’t done it by now you never will.”
By that time, we’d been friends for 10 years. I cared for him and know his assertion had nothing to do with his care for me. Rather, his comment was a looking glass onto his worldview, a mysterious timeline for literary achievement to which only he was privy: At the ripe old age of 32 I had blown it.
At age 34 I went to a financial planner. In the first exploratory meeting, he asked, “What are your goals, your dreams?” I said I had two big goals, the first was to take a trip around the world; also, I wanted to support myself full-time as a writer.
The financial planner said, “Ha! Wouldn’t we all.”
I could fill a book with such anecdotes. Instead, here are postscripts to these two:
Five years after the financial planner’s rebuff, I traveled solo around the world at age 39. The year before I became a columnist for The Hartford Courant, Connecticut’s largest newspaper. As of December 2020, I have authored and published 17 books.
Take care with whom you share your goals. Not everyone can be a dream holder, even if they love and care for you. If they can’t, it’s not about you, it’s about them. Not a judgment, just the facts. Keep going. To quote writing teacher Natalie Goldberg, “Don’t let it toss you away.”
After these two encounters of having my dreams trounced, you’d think I’d be more thoughtful when disclosing them. However, it’s natural to share passions with friends and family. It helps for others to be sounding boards.
After several two-by-fours bashed against my ideas, I finally learned to be more selective:
Don’t talk your ideas away. Instead, keep your mouth shut and bring them to life.
You don’t have to explain your creative process (for writing, a business start-up, an art installation). If you’ve engaged it at all you know it’s richer than “just add water.” Most people who ask “how many pages” and “how long does it take to write a book?” want the Kool-Aid version of creative process. Anybody’s whose interest in creative alchemy runs deeper than cocktail party patter has the Internet and other research tools at their disposal. Get on with your creative endeavors.
Writers: Pull a page from the creators of Google and don’t talk about writing. Write. “Inherently, Larry and Serge aren’t paper-oriented – they’re product oriented,” writes Steven Levy in his book, In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives. “If they have another 10 minutes, they want to make something better. They don’t want to take 10 minutes to tell you something they did.” In the time it takes to talk about your idea for a novel, screenplay, stage play, song or video, you could have had the idea written down, fleshed, and the architecture created for its scaffolding. This has been a huge lesson for me. Though I have writing supporters, if I talk, talk, talk about an idea just conceived or still incubating, there’s nothing left for the page. Actor Michael Shannon’s succinct recommendation: “Keep the juice in the lemon.”
Feedback on a work-in-progress at some point is helpful. However, don’t toss your ideas out into the big bad ocean of potentially harsh judgment and criticism before you’ve even given them a chance to float.