For over a decade I was the props wrangler for the Portland Christmas Revels, a musical celebration of Christmas and the winter solstice, each year set in a different country and a different period of history. The show always includes a lovely quote by Fra Giovanni, a Renaissance genius and Franciscan friar.
“I salute you. There is nothing I can give you which you have not, but there is much that while I cannot give, you can take. No heaven can come to us unless our hearts find rest in it today. Take heaven. No peace lies in the future which is not hidden in this present instant. Take peace. The gloom of the world is but a shadow. Behind it, yet within our reach, is joy. Take joy.”
Inspired by this blessing, what I want us all to take with us at this change in the year is three-fold.
We should love our writing. Not in a “I’m settling for you” kind of way, but in a “you are my soul-mate” way. We should do whatever we have to do to make our manuscripts worthy of being adored. Every page should be our favorites. I had a friend named Mark, when I went to the Pasadena Alternative School in the mid 70s. Mark was only ten, but he was writing an action novel called Earthquake in the Underground City. He carried it around with him everywhere. And he had a favorite page. He’d read it to you as often as you’d let him. And I had to admit it was a good page–he had a flare for dialogue and made excellent use of suspense. That page was dog-eared, he shared it so much–I suspect he also read it aloud to himself now and then. If we ever feel “just not that into” our stories, we need to do something about it. We could try a writing exercise, like the ones I listed in last month’s column, or inspire ourselves by re-reading passages from our favorite books before we revise, to put ourselves into that “Mark” zone. We will stir up a new passion for our work because we need to be smitten.
It’s the darkest season–it feels like the sun sets too soon and we never get enough writing done, but we shouldn’t be fooled—there are still the same amount of hours every day. Maybe things do slow down a bit in the publishing industry between Thanksgiving and New Years, but it doesn’t mean that anyone has lost or is rejecting our manuscripts. Also, in medieval England, Christmas was the time the King would open the prison cells and forgive the debtors. It’s time for us to let ourselves off the hook for any perceived mistakes. So that last story didn’t turn out as good as hoped. It’s okay. We’re becoming better writers with every page of practice. Maybe we feel guilty that we still haven’t sent in those fifty pages promised to that agent we pitched to at conference. There’s still time to send it. It’s not too late. This is also the perfect time to forgive others (like the editor who passed on your novel or the reviewer who held back praise.) 2013 is plump with possibilities.
If we feel the urge to go in a new direction with our stories, or one of our characters, if the idea makes us happy and at the same time makes us a little nervous, we’re on the right track. We will follow our bliss. And not tiptoe into the shallows, but cannon ball into the deep end. Do something to shake ourselves out of hibernation. The comfort zone is closed for the winter. I see into the future—some of us will find a new narrating voice, one that feels natural, stylish, powerful, and fresh. Some will try a new genre and take off like rockets. Some will be bold and make a phone call or send an unsolicited sample out and end up signing with the perfect agent. Some will dig out and finish that screenplay that got stuffed in a drawer a decade ago, revamp it and enter a contest. And someone will win. Some will write poems and give themselves shivers. Others will go on week-long writers retreats, or participate in the Three Day Novel Writing competition or Nanowrimo. Doors and windows long shut or ignored will fly open. I see it and feel it. It’s a new year and a new world.
And I join Fra Giovanni in greeting you all “with the prayer that for you, now and forever, the day breaks and the shadows flee away.”
(adapted from a column in the Willamette Writers newsletter in 2012)