on staying the course

Recently a friend – author and movie critic, Jeffrey Overstreet – had the privilege of interviewing Andrew Stanton, writer and director of WALL-E and Finding Nemo. As these things usually go, the interviewer typically has only ten minutes to ask a series of question, sometimes even less.

In Jeffrey’s account of the interview, he says he was taken completely off guard when Stanton started out by saying he’d recently read and enjoyed Jeffrey’s memoir of “dangerous movie going,” Through a Screen Darkly. Jeffrey writes:

What a strange, small world we live in. I’m shaken at the idea of a magician like Stanton reading my fumbling attempts to express my appreciation for excellence and artistry like his. I’ll cherish that surprise for the rest of my life.

Bryan and I have known Jeffrey many years, long before his first book was published, and have shared in his love for music, movies, and the intersection of faith and culture. I was teary eyed at the book release party for his passion project, Auralia’s Colors, as I listened to him describe years of dreaming and honing his craft and wading through rejection.

Now, as Jeffrey is waiting for the release of his third book in the fall, Andrew Stanton says he likes his work, and it would seem as if he’s arrived.

I struggled with maintaining contentment this year. I found my inner voice justifying my lack of “success” by saying things like, If I had more time I could…, or When my kids are in school I will…. I watched other blogging friends find success in print or major national websites, excited for them, but at the same time feeling as if the train were leaving the station without me.

I think I sometimes mix up fame and craft. Sure, we all hope for that nudge of recognition from somebody we think matters, but what if that nudge never comes? Will I be content as a writer to just write? Are the people who read my blog today somehow less important than someone who reads my third published memoir?

When Blogher announced I’d be reading at the community keynote this Friday, I watched with elation as the stats on my Google Analytics soared. I crossed my fingers every day, hoping the numbers would stay up because someone who I thought matters gave me a nudge. Surely everyone will be amazed at my power over the English language, I thought, and want to subscribe to my blog feed.

Of course things settled back down to normal after two or three days, and it’s just you, me, and a glass of wine again. Surprisingly, though, I find peace in this. What I’ve enjoyed most about blogging over the years, is the practicing of my craft and becoming friends with some of my most faithful commenters. I’ve even convinced one of my readers-turned-friend to move in with us, and I couldn’t be more excited. I wish I could invite all of you to sit by my fire and roast marshmallows!

Some day I will tell you the story of how Bryan and I used to know Don Miller, author of Blue Like Jazz and other books. I will tell you how we stayed with him on a trip to Portland when I was pregnant with Ruthie, how we slept on an air mattress on his floor, and listened to him talk about how uncertain his future was. Will he go bankrupt? Will he get published? Will he make it as a writer? Someday I will tell you how Bryan and I read an early draft of Blue Like Jazz as we sat outside Portland’s Rose Garden, waiting for the Bruce Springsteen concert to start, and how we were transfixed by every word.

Don Miller made it, for sure, but I will never forget those two or three visits to Portland before any of us knew he would. And I will never forget sitting cross-legged on the floor at Danny’s house, participating with Jeffrey Overstreet in a Dead Poet’s Society-like evening of sharing our art with one another before his name was ever in print. I remember these things to remind myself the goal is not to get somewhere, to gain an audience. The goal is to write well, to practice my craft, and to meet great people who can inspire me to fix my eyes on these things.

bed headIf you are going to Blogher, or if you are at Blogher and reading this, I would love the opportunity to meet you. (That’s me on the right, only I promise to look better than just out of bed and feeling slightly cranky about it). We all have dreams and goals and whisper wishes, and I would love to hear yours. I would also love to encourage you in those things, and give you something to remind you to stay on course. I’ll be giving away three books to people I meet at Blogher, so make sure I get a business card or a piece of paper with your email address on it, and when I get home I’ll randomly draw three names to win one of these books.

The first book I’ll give away is Through a Screen Darkly, by Jeffrey Overstreet, which challenges you to view movies and art thoughtfully. Secondly, I’ll give away Blue Like Jazz, by Don Miller, which is the series of essays he was writing during those years he struggled to make it as a writer. Thirdly, I’d like to send someone a copy of Writing from the Inside Out, by Dennis Palumbo. Ironically, a blogger I met at Blogher 2006 recommended this book to me, and it’s become one of those cornerstones of my craft.

In this review of the book I write:

The over-arching theme of the book is this: love what you do, because the rewards of writing won’t always come in typical or tangible success, so our reward must be IN the writing. This is not a step-by-step how-to of writing the great novel or screenplay. Rather, it is a therapeutic salve that encourages the writer to be himself, to write from his own experiences, and to find joy in the everyday mundane.

It’s late and I’m sleepy with wine, and words to end by are not coming easily. So I will let this end awkwardly and get a decent night’s sleep before the big trip. Hope to see you there.

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