One Foot in the Past, One Foot in the Future


Image by DanBrady via Flickr

It’s funny how when you decide to clean, you find stuff. Sometimes, it’s a note from the past.

A few weeks ago, I cleared the clutter from the top of the bedroom dresser and found a small, sealed envelope that said “May 15, 2011” on the front.  I knew that I hadn’t created the envelope in May of 2011, but it was my handwriting on the front in red ink.

Inside the envelope were two index cards. The light bulb came on.

In May 2010, my writers’ group – The Northwest Ohio Writers Forum – had a guest speaker, author Barbara Snow, who worked with us on overcoming writers block and breaking down those brick walls that keep “writers” from becoming “authors.”

The white index card from my past included five goals:

  • have an essay accepted for publication
  • have poetry published in The Sun magazine
  • finish first draft of Vacancy (a young adult novel I’d started during NaNoWriMo 2009)
  • submit ten stories or essays
  • teach writing and editing.

Without grading on a curve, or awarding partial credit, I can only claim one out of five accomplished, and that’s teaching writing and editing.  If I award partial credit, I can give myself a half point for essay submissions (I’ve sent out three to either contests or web sites) and a half point for Vacancy, which is still a work in progress under a new working title.

On the green index card were five obstacles that I felt kept me from succeeding:

  • reading for “free” (i.e. spending a lot of time saying “yes” when people ask, “Can you do me a favor and read this manuscript and tell me what you think?”)
  •  picking up the kids from school (it is what it is – someone’s got to do it – but it never fails that I’m on a roll when I have to drop what I’m doing and go be Mom)
  • worrying about money and putting food on the table
  •  chores
  • feeling “pointless.”  Although if I had to pick a different word, now I would choose “useless.”

As a full-time freelance editor and writer, reading and writing are my livelihood. It sounds strange to say I get paid to read, but, yeah – I get paid to read, followed by providing feedback and corrections with the goal of making your story stronger and more publishable.  A three-to-five-page short story?  Sure, I’ll read it and tell you what I think.  A 120,000-word high fantasy novel?  I’d love to, but there’s a fee.  A girl’s gotta eat.

I studied these index cards and concluded that very little had changed, at least as far as these particular notes and goals were concerned, and I felt disappointed with myself.

But since I am dedicated to living an optimistic life, I’ve decided to “spin” this and look at what’s going right, instead of wrong.

I love my work. I want to do more of it, and I’ve learned over the past year that my “problem” is I think like a Creative, not a businessperson.  I’m learning now from people I admire and trust how to think like an entrepreneur.  I’m trying to be more organized and less distracted. Improving my bottom line requires a little selfishness on my part sometimes. Chores and parenting responsibilities haven’t gone away, but creating that balance requires better organization. When the kids come home at 3 p.m., I stop working or work on things that can be interrupted.

But there’s that feeling of uselessness. It’s no use. I’m of no use.  It bubbles up with alarming frequency.

My response:  “Shut up. I’m working on it.”

I feel like I’m on the cusp of something good.  I just need a little more time.

And what about those goals?  What happened?

Life happened, that’s what.  New opportunities arose, my focus changed, my energy redirected, and it was by and large for the better.  You might say, “God had other plans.”

Poetry is not my passion.  I dabble in it. I’m okay with the way this goal turned out. I submitted three stories, which was three more than the year before. I’m finding the courage to put myself out there and be judged.  I’ve experimented with flash fiction and started a blog.  All positive steps forward, I’d say.

Personal essay, memoir, and other nonfiction seem to be the cornerstones of my writing life, but I also have young adult paranormal fiction and romantic fiction percolating.  November is National Novel Writing Month. Anything is possible.

Jill Kemerer, vice-president of the Maumee Valley Romance Writers Association, passed along some wisdom to me after the Write Brain Workshop.

“A best-selling author shared this in a workshop I attended, ‘You’re most tempted to quit when you’re close to being published.’  It’s impossible not to get discouraged or to banish our doubts all the time, but we just keep going.”

For the last year or so, I’ve had this feeling that I’m embarking on a new chapter, or a new volume, in the saga of my life. My faith has been restored. New gifts and talents have made themselves known. New people have come into my world as I’ve acknowledged to old friends how much I care about them, having conversations that were long overdue. It’s not that I’ve been systematically evicting people from my life – just closing doors and expressing gratitude.

I’m turning 43, and I’m standing at a crossroads. Going back is not an option.  There are many roads before me, and I can either stand here paralyzed by fear and doubt for the next 43 years – watching the sun rise and set, waving at people passing me by – or I can move, trusting that no matter where the road leads, I will end up where I am meant to be.

Next to my laptop are two index cards and an envelope that says “October 18, 2012.”  Time will tell.


15 thoughts on “One Foot in the Past, One Foot in the Future

  1. It’s not only “all right” that goals change over a year, it’s necessary – because we change, and need to refine our goals. I was brought up in the belief that you have to make decisions and stick to them, no matter what, and only in my late thirties I began to realise where many of my problems were coming from… I allowed myself to change my mind – after all, that’s what learning is about.

    Consolidation of where I wnant to go, now, what I want to take with me and leaving behind what has become obsolete is not an exercise anymore, I do it daily, automatically, whenever I’m stuck or in doubt. I stopped planning my day in advance and do a rough outline instead; rather then let myself be annoyed (by self or others) or complain about what I can’t do, I decide every moment on what to do, now, with what I’ve got, now.

    The only caveat is with cooking: I must stay in the kitchen, or else I’ll burn the lentils 😉

    • Honestly, if I’d even remembered that I’d had those goals lying around, I’d have been tempted to redesign my life to fit those goals – so it’s a very good thing that I didn’t. I’d have missed out on some fabulous, life-changing experiences otherwise!

  2. Everyday is a chapter in our lives. We just have to forge forward.
    I have lots of lists that I find from time to time. I suppose it’s a good
    way to keep the clutter out of the mind.
    Good write on life accomplshments – or lack of.

  3. I’ve found old lists of mine, too, and I’m amazed that I did accomplish SOME of the things on them. Like you, I try not to focus on the fact that I didn’t make them, but why I didn’t. I’m a busy mom and could give a million excuses, but at the end of the day, fear is a big factor. It’s scary to change our lives and go after our dreams. That’s why it’s so wonderful to have supportive writer friends to share our struggles.

    Thanks for the kind words, too, Elizabeth!

  4. You know what stands out to me the most? Not the fact that you didn’t do all the things on the white index card, but that you did some of them. If there had been no index card, how many of those things would you have accomplished and/or how would you know if you had? I think the power of the exercise lies in the old “putting it out to the universe” thing, but the drawback of such exercises is that we tend to beat ourselves up if we don’t achieve every single thing on the list. I don’t think the intention of such exercises is to make us feel bad, it’s to help us do more than we thought we could do before we made the list. Does this make any sense at all? LOL

    • Yes, it makes sense, lol. Like I mentioned to Donna, next time I have to put the envelope in a place where I will remember to OPEN it. If I hadn’t stumbled across it in cleaning, I never would have recalled any of this. It is a testimony to just putting yourself into motion and seeing what transpires.

    • Thanks, Donna! I was really surprised when I opened the envelope – like I said, at first disappointed but then okay. And it illustrated for me how my priorities and goals have shifted in the past year. GOOD LUCK with your envelope! It will be fun to open them next year! Although this time, I have to put it in a place where I will SEE it! 🙂

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