Thin Ice

Why do you write?

This is the question, isn’t it? The big one every author will answer eventually, whether he wants to or not. Standard answers are “I want to make money” or “I want to be famous” or “I have a message for the world from God” or some combination of those three. Feel free to add one, dear readers. Those are just the ones I hear most.

My standard answer up to now has been “why not?” I’ve got the time. I’ve got some talent. I’ve got a few ideas rattling around up there. Why not get them on paper and out into the big world?

That’s not a good enough reason.

I’ve heard the journey to publication characterized as a climb up a mountain. Searching for the smallest chink or bulge as you pull yourself upwards by bloody fingernails. Sometimes you have help; sometimes you don’t. Sometimes the mountain is huge; sometimes it’s more of a steep hill.

But getting to the top makes it all worth it, right?

Well, I don’t know. Since I’ve started this climb, I haven’t really heard anybody say that. I haven’t heard of any huge paychecks or grocery-store recognition or world-changing revelations. I have heard Tosca Lee saying you’ll never get to polish another book like your first one. Sherry Thompson saying it can take half a lifetime to even scale the mountain. Paul Baines describing his struggles with marketing his published book.

Here’s my trouble. I don’t think of publication as reaching the top of a mountain. I don’t know why. Maybe because I’m afraid of heights.

In the year since I’ve started this journey, I feel like I’m walking to the middle of a huge, frozen lake. With every step, the ice thins. Cracks appear, followed quickly by creaks and pops. Which step will snap the illusion of control and plunge me into painful death? I don’t know.

But I don’t want to die.

That is what will happen. Publication changes everything. I may not get rich, or famous, or even share the message I intended. But everything I was will change. Expectations shift from “are you published?” to “when’s your next book out?” From hanging out on Facebook to setting up book signings. From hobby to job.

You may think I’m overreacting. You may be right. I may get published and no one notices. What I have noticed is an ever-increasing reluctance on my part to take the next, logical step, whatever it may be. It’s like I’ve hit the edge of my risk tolerance and I can’t bring myself to go further. But I don’t want to go back, either. Back isn’t good. So there I am, a turtle out on an ice-covered lake, slowly freezing to death.

So what do I do?

Rabbi Lapin says if you aren’t the person you should be, you need to change who you are. Exactly what I’ve been not doing most of my life. Exactly what my donkey doesn’t want to do. Except my donkey isn’t in control. I am. And I am going to change.

It hurts. It hurts like braces, and the pain makes me cry in the darkness, and snap at my friends, and on occasion wish I were dead rather than endure it one moment more.

But I’m in control. I will win. I will change and be a better turtle for it, even if it means the death of what I was before I started. Frankly, I don’t know why I’m making such a fuss about losing her. She isn’t that great.

When I get too wrapped up in myself and my pain, I look to my writer friends who struggle so faithfully with their own treks, and who seem to see their reasons so clearly, and I’m encouraged. Maybe if I know enough people at the top, I won’t be so afraid to take the plunge.

What about you, dear readers? Do you know your reasons? Is your journey harder or easier than you thought it would be?

About Robynn Tolbert

Born in Kansas and born again at age six, Robynn has published two novels and started her third. Robynn, aka Ranunculus Turtle, lives in Kansas with a clowder of cats, a patient dog and a garden.

18 comments on “Thin Ice

  1. Thought provoking. I write because I can’t not write. Pure and simple. I love words, but I mostly think writing is a lot of work.

  2. Love this realness of Turtle.

    A few things to remember…

    -We are the Collective.

    -We have ropes tied to you.

    -Even reluctant turtles can win the race if they keep at it.

  3. My dearest Turtle,

    Don’t be afraid. Keep in mind that a rose,is a rose, is a rose and by any other name it is still a rose. When we write, we write for no other reason than. it is our destiny. We start out as a bud but with each passing moment we are blossoming into the beautiful rose that we were meant to be. There are many variations in the rose family but they are all still roses. And you my turtle are still blossoming.

  4. Ah, this is great. I keep hearing that the work STARTS when you sign a contract for publication. Sigh…. And, of course, there is the whole “You better NOT be in this for the money” thing. The fame and fortune are reserved for the select few (or in the case of some, the incredibly lucky talentless few–not naming names–sparkle, sparkle).

    I’ll be honest. I started writing because I wanted to see my name on the cover of a book., and not because I paid to have it there. No issues with self-pubbed authors, honestly. I’ve actually hit a point now where I realize the publishing world has changed drastically since that desire first sparked in me, and now self-pubbing is an option, but mainly because if you are successful at it, it’s like going, “Hah! You pros were wrong, so eat my dust.”

    But the key is being a success, and there is no guarantee. THAT is the scary part for me. I don’t just want to publish. I want to publish and *sell*. (gasp–yep, I said it) Sure, I’ll keep writing no matter what, because I “have” to, but I “want” to sell my books. I want my books to get to readers, and become something beloved by them.

    And, my dear snapping turtle, you have real talent. You’ll keep plugging away. Slow and steady really can win the race.

  5. Yeah, my reason for writing is one of the more common ones. I write because that’s the gift God gave me and because I find more fulfillment in that than in anything else short of being a wife/mom. I definitely think writing is hard work, especially once you endeavor to more than personal gratification.

    Robyn, did I know you were from Kansas? So am I! Born and, um, raised off and on.

    • Most excellent. Special blessings come to those who glorify God with the gifts He gives. Not that I would know.

      I’ve only recently become comfortable admitting I’m from Kansas. I get tired of the Wizard of Oz jokes. But, hey, good to find another Home on the Ranger. Ad astra per aspera! Maybe that should be my war cry. Hmm.

  6. “Rabbi Lapin says if you aren’t the person you should be, you need to change who you are. Exactly what I’ve been not doing most of my life. Exactly what my donkey doesn’t want to do. Except my donkey isn’t in control. I am. And I am going to change.”

    I tell my wife I hit my “mid-life” crisis when I was about 30. My daughter had just been born, I had left teaching, taken a sales job, fired from a sales job, and was working in a shop making neon signs. We were living with my parents. The Switchfoot song “This is Your Life” haunted me. That’s when I did some serious praying and decided to do whatever I needed to do to become what God wants.

    Now I’m at Seminary working on my Master’s, I’ve got one book I’m trying to get published and two on deck, and I’m blogging with you fine folk.

    There’s nothing like giving in, letting go, and deciding to become everything you should be. Good luck and blessings on your journey!

  7. Thank you for the blessing, Iguana. I have noticed you have no trouble forging ahead. hehe!

  8. My journey, as you well know, is not one of writing but one of learning to live. I can’t really say it has been harder than I originally thought because I was at a place were there was not thought – only a desperate need to change.

    But since that time, it has been a bit more trying then I would like. And, at times, a lot more scary! Worth it? Yes and I am not through changing yet! As a great friend has said a number of times – “I may not be who I want to be, but thank you God – I am not who I used to be”.

    You, Ms Robynn, are a wonderful (is that worded correctly?) person that has a lot to offer and more. I love being a part of your life and (somewhat) being on this journey with you!

    Hugs & God bless!

  9. Ah, yes. The question of “Why?” It’s a very good question indeed, and really it’s one that can vary from person to person. Perhaps I might put up a blog entry about that sometime as I did a while back about “Who?” 😉

  10. I write because I love creating worlds in which I can lose myself, but I have never desired to become a professional author. I have other passions I want to use to pay the rent. And creativity on command is not one of my strengths. My writing pace is usually quite slow, and I like taking a lot of time to hone my work.

    I don’t think I really have a lot of expectations, except rejection (that’s a given, and it never takes me by surprise). And hard work (another given). I have hopes, of course, but that’s another story. So the journey has turned out to be pretty much the way I thought it would be.

    Don’t worry…. You’ll figure out the way that’s best for you, and all shall be well.

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