|Photo Credit: antibarbie|
The third was totally unexpected. A friend died of a sudden heart attack, and her death was the one that affected me the most. She was close to my age.
I keep wondering if she had any dreams she kept putting off, and if she'd known her time was limited, would she have done more to pursue them? I wish I could ask her now: What are you sorry you didn't do? If you had one more day on earth, how would you fill it? Is there any advice you'd give those of us who are left behind?
When something like that happens, it makes you examine your own life more closely. Is what I'm doing right now the most important use of my time? If not, what should I be doing? And most of all, if I were to die suddenly, what would I be sorry I never did?
So much of life is spent on "have-to's," obligations, and to-do lists, that we rarely have time for our dreams. Have you ever found an old list and laughed at what you once thought were life-and-death deadlines? I have. And I've even found lists that I'm not sure were written this week or years ago. Some of the same things keep turning up on my lists again and again.
For more than a year, I've had a historical novel waiting patiently for me to pick it up again. It needs some revision and some research. (If anyone knows an expert in Ming China history who'd be willing to critique it, please let me know.) But neither of those tasks is daunting. I'm a former librarian; I adore research. And finding the time to write isn't the problem. I've managed to complete several other novels and finish multiple nonfiction books for publishing contracts. Getting it published also isn't a concern. My CPs say it's my best work so far, it's won two contests, two agents have requested it from a partial, and a National Book Award-winning author is convinced it will set off bidding wars at publishing houses. So what's holding me back?
Fear. What if it really is good? So good that it does well, and I get a lucrative publishing contract? And then I can't produce another one like it? Or worse yet, what if I get my hopes up because of all the positive feedback and then the book crashes and burns? What if no one wants to publish it? What if everyone's just saying that to be nice? What if...? What if?
Those two words can be the scariest words in the English language. They've stopped many people from reaching their dreams. But they can also be the two most empowering words. What if things turned out well? What if it soared beyond my wildest dreams? What if it made my career as a novelist? And those two words--what if?--are the start of every new novel.
|Photo Credit: Dimitri Castrique|
So those three deaths started me wondering. What if I died tomorrow--would I regret not finishing that novel? Maybe not. As long as I keep my manuscript in a drawer (or on my computer), I don't have to face either the fear of failure or the fear of success. I can keep the dream of future possibilities awake in my heart without worrying if this novel will live up to my or other people's expectations. Maybe that novel serves a purpose as my daydream, my hope for future bliss, and it keeps me writing other things. If I don't finish it, I can always hold a secret close to my heart: I have a fabulous novel that could have made me famous if I'd ever finished it. And I never have to find out if that's true.
Maybe that's why so many of us start novels and never finish them. I read a statistic that said 85% of people in America say they want to write a book, yet only 1% ever finish. I wonder how many, like me, don't do it because they're holding onto that dream of future fame and riches, but deep down they don't believe they'll ever attain it, so they never put pen to paper.
Do you have any dreams that inspire you, but you never try to fulfill?
|Photo Credit: Zsolt Zatrok|
With so many deaths on my mind, I suppose it's only fitting that I received word that my short story, "Angel in the Mist," a tale of star-crossed lovers who meet on the other side, was accepted for an anthology.
Annie, heading to America to help support her starving family during the Irish potato famine, sacrifices her place on a lifeboat to save two younger children. Shades of Titanic, yes, but this happened before that fateful voyage, when most steamers carried only a few lifeboats. But through her death, Annie finds a new way to fulfill her mission and saves not only her family but also her whole village.
This charity anthology, edited by Ann Stewart, and published by Sunbury Press, will benefit the Fredricksen Library in Camp Hill, PA.