Last week I bemoaned my inability to decide if the manuscript for The Reluctant Spy was ready for publication despite the email from a friend who’d read the story and found it “fascinating.”
This week, while tracing the arc of my writing life, I’ve pondered that word. In 7th grade I won first place in the Kansas City diocesan essay contest. I can remember Mom’s broad smile as I returned from the podium with my prize—a prayer book.
In college I was one of twenty finalists in the prestigious 1958 Atlantic Monthly essay contest. At the time, my writing mentor, Sister Scholastica, tried to impress on me that in this nationwide contest I’d excelled among thousands of entries. But I, preparing to enter the convent, had little time for such foolishness.
During the next twenty-seven years I became a nun, taught, and found a new life after leaving the monastery. Then, in 1985, I became a freelance editor, copyeditor, and curriculum developer. Suddenly writing became important again.
Four years later, the cat I’d loved for nearly two decades died. Dulcy immediately began to channel through me the story of our life together.
Late that summer, I told a friend about this strange phenomenon. “Well, it’ll all be trash,” she said with surety. “You’ll just have to throw it away.” Her words stunned me.
A few weeks later another friend, a published writer, read the first draft of Dulcy’s story. “Put this in a safety deposit box,” he recommended, “and don’t look at it for five years. Then maybe you’ll find something worth keeping.”
His wife’s take on the book? “Bor-ing! Bor-ing!”
When I expressed doubts about my writing ability to an acquaintance, she said, “Well, Dee, maybe you can’t write. Maybe you just don’t have the gift.”
With that, my thoughts jelled: I wasn’t a writer. I couldn’t write well. I was a hack. Dulcy’s book being published made no difference. After all, she wrote the book; I simply edited it.
I knew two things: I could edit; I couldn’t write.
The years passed with me crafting sentences, seeking to find the cadence of words. Because no agent was interested in representing my writing, the belief that I was a word-dabbler rooted deeper and deeper into my psyche.
Then in 2011, I began to blog. Several readers commented that my writing was good and so I’ve come to believe that I can write a 600-word story. Yet that realization hasn’t expunged my belief that I’m a rank amateur with regard to writing longer stories that demand well-drawn characters and extended suspense.
Recently a psychic told me that in this life I was meant “to let go.” Not of specific things—like the convent or a dysfunctional relationship with a couple who’d been friends for years or a home in Stillwater. No. She meant the mega things—those beliefs that arc my life from beginning to now. During this past week I’ve examined the belief that I’m a charlatan.
Now here we are today. I’ve mulled the past, recognized the belief, and read that wonderful word fascinating. It has broken through the bars of my conviction that I can’t write a novel.
Fran’s word has, literally, freed me from a way of thinking about myself that has shackled me for years. Today I want to thank her for helping me let go of that old belief about myself and my writing. I can write. I can write a novel that will, perhaps, be published. But whatever happens, I will be grateful to this friend for freeing me.
Peace. And Hallelujah!