Saturday, August 17, 2013

Many Roads, Many Travelers

Life is a journey. That's a cliche we've all heard. It's full of choices and each choice leads us down a road. Roads are different, with their surroundings and gravel or bumps or potholes or dead ends or mud. Sometimes you get stuck. You turn around. You go for miles and miles and miles while you're tired and lost and alone. Publishing is a journey much like this.

This isn't a post about the paths you can take in publishing. We all know there are different paths and not every person will fit or travel down the same one. This post is about journeys and roads and how in life (and in publishing) we all can end up on a road that we didn't imagine for ourselves. This is part of the journey, part of growing, part of living.
Last weekend, I drove my little car all the way to this itty bitty town in North Carolina for a wedding. My freshman year roommate was getting married, and it all worked out so I could go. I was excited -- I hadn't really been in the South in the three(ish) years since I left Nashville! And I hadn't seen two of my friends who I knew would be at the wedding since about then, too. I was excited about all of us being together again for an afternoon, and even more, I was nervous. Mostly because my choices, my roads, have led me far away from that girl I was in college, and I didn't know if we'd be the same together. My plans and my purpose and my beliefs have changed, and would they reject me for that? Would they know me?

Here's the thing: people grow up. And when we grow up, we change. We find new interests, new paths, answers to questions that we'd been asking forever, and sometimes, more questions. Those questions can cause us to wonder about things we thought for sure were the answers. In this aspect, I know I am not the same. When I think about College Danielle and Professional Danielle, I feel that I've changed. I've grown and evolved and been stuck in this place of answerless questions. A place that, sometimes, makes me doubt who I am now, if she is the best version of me that I can be, and what I'm working (so freaking hard) toward and why it all can feel very endless and lonely. Because there are days when it does.

Writers do the same thing. We make the choice to tell this story, to revise it like this, to query it to these people, to publish with a small press or to get an agent or to pursue both, to not settle, to not give up. When we write story A instead of story B, we are putting ourselves on a certain road. When we change this instead of that, a new road. It goes on and on.

Each road leads us to different things. People that we would've met had we done this, we surpass or meet later on when another choice leads our paths to cross. We get stuck because we can't move farther or figure out what happens in the story next. We hit road bumps and potholes of rejection, of failure, of missed opportunities. Some roads lead us uphill and some downhill and some just endless stretches of asphalt and blistering sunshine. And some days, those very, very I-want-to-quit days, we feel alone.

That's the part of all this that I've been seeing over the last month. We're not alone.

You know what happened when I got to that wedding and to the old friends I hadn't seen in years? Nothing. I mean, nothing bad. It was an incredible day. We hadn't spoken in however long, but they knew me. They were supportive and happy and it was as if no time had passed all. It was only minutes before all my worry drifted away. And that fear that I had changed into something else? Someone else? Not true. Sure, the roads I'd traveled and the paths stretched out before me were different than College Danielle had planned -- but I was still me. In fact, I learned that as much as those roads have surprised me, they were no surprise to my friends. They knew I'd end up where I am way before I even realized it was a journey I wanted to start on. And despite the roads and paths and how much I thought I'd changed, the core things that make up who I was and who I am and who I will continue to be are still the same. Even when I don't see them because they are so covered with doubt and cobwebs and worry and pressure.

The most amazing part of the whole thing was realizing that I am not alone. Not in life. Not in writing.

Just because, as writers, we're walking down our own road, a road that no one else can travel with us or experience the same way we do, it does not mean we are alone. There are many, many roads, and on those roads, many more travelers. Our roads may intersect with every traveler, or they may not, but there will always be people we know, people who know us, to support us, and carry us and bring us a drink of water when we are thirsty and drag us along on the blistering, quitting days.

The other great thing about the roads we travel: someone else has already traveled it.

Whether it's in life or in writing, there is no brand new experience. It is new for us, and unique to us, but it's also probably something that someone else has experienced. Agent split? Someone's been there. New agent? Someone's been there. 8 revisions? Someone's been there. Failed acquisition: someone's been there. Book release. Months of editing. Crying. Disappointment. Writer's block: Someone's been there. If you're a parent or a teacher or a student or a musician: someone has been where you are.

There will always be people who are where you are. Each of us are in a unique position to reach out. (Especially in a small community like publishing!)

I was telling my #TeamDani authors a few weeks ago that they all have each other. Kelsey had mentioned this feeling of loneliness in her vlog and it really spoke to me. Because it is lonely, sometimes, and it doesn't have to be. (I really don' t know why we let it be or why we do that to ourselves and/or other writers.) I told my authors that they have the same editor at the same press in the same time period--that's a thing that connects them to each other. Some of them are further along in the process than others, which just means that they've been there already. They are all connected and experiencing something that one of the others has felt or is feeling, in a way that is all their own. All that means is that we have no excuse to feel alone.

We forget this a lot as we are following our road because we can't see the parallel roads beyond the trees or hear the cries from them because they get lost in the breeze. We feel like we can't talk to each other, can't be real about our loneliness or our struggle, and that's ridiculous! We need each other.

We are made to journey together - in life and in publishing and along whatever road you are following. I think the only way we can survive the long, long roads is to realize that. And, once we realize that, to speak out, to reach out, to celebrate together, and to make sure that we each have someone who can walk with us when we feel alone.

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  1. Just what I needed to read, right now!

  2. Great post. Camaraderie makes ALL the difference. Too many times fear of what others will think keeps us from reaching out, when in reality, our experiences would not only help others, but help them reach back out to us to vent about the *same* issues! :) Glad you had a great time. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Awesome post, and so true. We're all in it together! :)