Monday, January 10, 2011

Taillights, gladiators, & things that keep us moving

There’s a sizable mountain range separating my part of Oregon from the part where all the Romance Writers of America (RWA) meetings occur.

In the summertime, the mountains are merely scenic. In the wintertime, they’re downright treacherous. It’s not unusual to see cars buried in snow banks or flipped upside down, and I prefer to keep my eyes shut tight for most of the trip.

That doesn’t work if I’m driving alone without Pythagoras, which was the case this past weekend.

The drive over on Thursday afternoon wasn’t so bad, but Saturday evening’s return trip scared the holy living snot out of me. The roads were icy, the sky was dark, and the snow was flying from 859 directions.

I wanted to curl up on the floorboards and whimper. I settled for fixating on the taillights of the guy ahead of me. For two hours, I kept pace with his Jeep. I gauged his speed on slick curves, noticed when he tapped his brakes, and invented an imaginary identity for him that included a falcate sword and a gladiator costume.

By the time we made it over the mountains, I wanted to follow him home and hug him. I refrained, mostly because he’d think I was a stalker, but also because I would have been really disappointed if he didn’t have the sword.

The experience made me think about the post I wrote last Friday. In it, I talked about the downside of having bitter or jealous thoughts about other authors. The post sparked one of the coolest discussions we’ve had here, further cementing my belief that the people commenting on my blog often have smarter things to say than I do.

One of the most thought-provoking comments was this one from Mark Simpson:

When I was a hurdler in high school there was a kid in the next town (lets call it Colstrip because that's what everyone calls it) who was both amazingly talented and a complete asshole. (Lets call him Bobby Gregg, since that's his actual name. ha)

More than anything I wanted to beat him, to see his face lined in pain as I broke his will. So I drug railroad ties through the snow, trained and bled and sweated. I finally did beat him a couple times, although he won the ultimate contest. (probably because he was better than me.)

But even as the memory of my broken heart spilling its blood into the gutter of my soul still rings fresh, I know that loathing disdain for him still brought out my absolute best. I needed him like spring needs the rain. (And now we're FB friends. ha)

These days instead of running endless intervals to the Top Gun soundtrack on my Walkman, I read Tawna's blog. And although I am dazzled daily by her unattainable level of wit, humor and charm – there is a part of me that wants.. nay NEEDS... to see something that ISN'T clever, funny or charming. Every day I scour the text in vain yearning, all while honing my own writing skills – skills that even as they peak will always be deep in her shadow.

Tawna is my modern day Bobby Gregg– inspiration, nemesis, and femme fatale.

She is the rock I break myself against.

As a side-note, if you’ve ever wondered how many regular blog readers I know in real life, the answer is “almost none.” Mark is one of the few – an old pal from college I haven’t seen for years, but who recently found me on Facebook. I bring this up because seeing that comment from a total stranger might’ve creeped me out a little. Seeing it from him just made me giggle.

But I digress.

Aside from his facetious Tawna-worship, Mark makes a great point. While I don’t encourage petty jealousy and evil thoughts about others, a little friendly rivalry can push you to be better.

During my bumpy path to publication, one thing that kept me going was the steady stream of positive feedback and “almost there” comments from editors.

But on the flip-side of that, the comments that made me even more determined to succeed were the ones containing traces of the sentiment, “you can’t.”

Those were the comments that made me stand up straight, shake off my disappointment, and scream, “hell yes I can – watch me!”

So while I stand by what I said Friday about holding your venomous thoughts in check, there’s a benefit to having something that keeps you driving forward when you might otherwise be tempted to curl up and cry.

What pushes you to keep going? Is it a professional rivalry, an outright failure, or just a guy in a gladiator costume with a bright pair of taillights? Please share!


Sheila Siler said...

What keeps me going is hearing something like "my mom's a writer" from my kids or this week it was an off hand comment from my husband. I'm packing for a girls weekend away and he said - this is just practice for your book tour (the book that isn't finished yet btw). When my family makes this offhand comments unexpectedly, that pushes me to be worthy of their belief.

Matthew MacNish said...

I miss the mountains and the snow, but I don't miss that part!

I'm not really good with negative reinforcement, but that's great if you can turn it around and put it to use.

CKHB said...

Literary. Nemesis.

Dr. Cheryl Carvajal said...

Can't say I have a nemesis in writing... I pretty much want all my fellow writers to do well. Their success isn't at my expense.

My motivation, in the bleakest moments, comes from anger that stems from all the people who've dismissed me in the past. That guy whose eyes drifted over me, assuming I'd amount to nothing. Family members who made it clear I wasn't born to be a writer (or an artist, or a thespian).

It's those people who keep me going. I don't have anything to prove to them, but I need to prove them wrong every day to myself, by doing the very things they said I couldn't.

Anne Gallagher said...

My mother. When she says, "Oh I wish you'd get a real job. That hobby of yours isn't going to make you any money and You're not as young as you used to be. Your retirement fund will be non-existant."

Linda G. said...

Sheer cussedness. Dig-in-my-heels stubbornness.

Also, inspiration from people like you, who've been exactly where I am right now, and who've gotten over the hurdles I'm currently facing. Because, day-am, girl. If you can do it, I guess I'll have to prove I can too. ;)

Bryan Russell said...

Donuts, mostly. Is that bad? Sometimes I use highbrow motivation like coffee.

John Ross Barnes said...

I do better with positive reinforcement than with rivalry, though I do appreciate a good challenge of the Milestone, can I be as good as - kind of thing.

Mostly what keeps me going are all of you, the Tawna Fenske's, Johanna Harnesses, Kerry Schafers, Kristina Martins, Bill Campbells, Jessica Rosens, the Archers-Karla & Randy,etc. on twitter.

Teri Anne Stanley said...

I have to say that getting into the social media aspect of writing has motivated me to keep at it. Of course, it's also a teeny bit of a distraction. But it's not like I would be writing my fabulous novel at work, that would make me a slacker.
I don't have any writing freinemies yet, but I have certainly looked at a few books and said, "Huh. I could do better." That keeps me moving.

Mark Simpson said...

Later on in college, I remember looking at the other guys racing and asking to myself, "Why can't you guys be jerks like Bobby was?" In track, I saw many of the same guys every week, becoming friends with many of them even though we usually lived in different states.

Writing is much different in the sense that there is no first or second place. We can all be good. In competition, I never routed for a guy to wreck or false start. I wanted to pull myself to their level, not drag them down to mine.. a key difference.

And though we lost touch for a couple years recently, I remember how much Tawna struggled early on once she decided to pursue writing as a first priority. But she got here the same way anyone gets good at anything.. with a lot of late nights early mornings.

If I were a betting man (and I am, on occasion) I would say that this is just the beginning for Tawna. And all jokes aside, I can honestly say that I couldn't be more happy for her.

The Novel Road said...

Those that doubt or sneer seem to make me a bit competitive. Especially if it comes from anyone I'm not all that friendly with.

One person doubted my ability to write a novel. ZAM! BOOM! POW!

A person on Twitter told me interviews were a dime a dozen.

Now if I could just get motivated about my vaccum cleaner...

Steph Schmidt said...

Strangely I want a nemesis now. Someone to inspire the inner critic in me to have a face for those doubts of can't, won't, lame. Just to make that first pump when I make it over a hurdle that much more worth it.

Anonymous said...

Awesome post. Thanks!

Driving in snow scares the ".. the holy living snot out of me" too! I grew up in Minnesota--you'd think I'd be a pro...but since living in the desert now...not so much.


Anyway, thanks for sharing this. Very encouraging and inspiring. I keep going on because I can't not write. I've met so many awesome people on this journey, I wouldn't trade it for the world....even if publication isn't in the cards for me.

Thanks for writing this. Have a great day.

Jen J. Danna said...

I definitely think there is something to be said for a competitive nature with just the tiniest stubborn streak. Not that I'd know anything about characteristics like that. Not a darned thing. *whistles innocently* ;)

Anonymous said...

I'm with Linda. Sheer bullheadedness. It helps to be a bit oblivious and ignorant at times. I hate the saying, "Ignorance is bliss", but damn! It can be so true!

Whatever it is, I'm LOVING it and hope it never stops. Rage on, Tawna. I'm with Mark, we all are in awe of you.

Anonymous said...

I'm with Linda. Sheer bullheadedness. It helps to be a bit oblivious and ignorant at times. I hate the saying, "Ignorance is bliss", but damn! It can be so true!

Whatever it is, I'm LOVING it and hope it never stops. Rage on, Tawna. I'm with Mark, we all are in awe of you.

Anonymous said...

Am I on here twice?
Ignorance is bliss???
*slinks away while no one notices*

Kate Lydston said...

I push forward because I have to. It's my nature. I don't have any professional rivalry, there's no golden carrot dangling in front of me. (That's what she said.) I write because it's in me to tell stories. I edit because I'm a perfectionist. I want to be published because I'm ambitious. I can't imagine stagnating. That's not to say that I don't have times where I want to chuck it all, but those times pass (with the help of a nice Cabernet) and I move on. I think that's just how life works.

Anonymous said...

I keep going because I love what I am writing or what I am about to write.

If I didn't like what my story was about or if I wasn't infatuated with my characters, I would have quit a long time ago.

Anonymous said...

You're right again, as usual. Thanks so much for this post, it's made me remember why I started writing in the first place. Recently had my first negative blog comment telling me all about the many ways in which I and my writing sucks. I cried all night at the anonymous person's comments, some people can be so cruel. But the next day I felt more determined than ever to prove that hater wrong.

Anonymous said...

What pushes me to keep writing is because I have more fun hanging with writers, talking story, and playing with words on a page than any other job. Plus there's the perks of lots of free books.

I've also succeeded at a whole bunch of easier careers and really got nothing out of it but a bank account. But what really pushes me to keep working toward having books in the hands of readers is - the alternative to not be a writer/storyteller. There's no difference between me and story and a musician and music.

It's a life force. :)

Anonymous said...

Glad to know you made it home! I've done a few of those watching the taillights trips. They've distorted my knuckles from gripping the wheel. For a writer, that sensation is research...

It's a joy to see you at our RCRW meetings and our monthly Applebees indulgence, even if we do order the same thing every time.


Sheila, that IS awesome. Every writer needs at least a few someones believing in her.

Matthew, were I not married to a ski bum, I don't think I could handle the mountain thing.

CHKB, that is fabulous!

Shakespeare, I hear you on the drive to prove someone wrong if they've dismissed you. I'm rabid about that.

Anne, tell her she'd better get with the program or you won't take her on a cruise when you get that seven-figure advance :)

Linda G, that's what agency sistahs are for!

Bryan, donuts work for me! Especially a nice, squishy glazed one that's still warm.

John, glad it helps! We all owe it to each other to lend a little motivation when we can.

Teri Anne, isn't social media great for allowing you to feel like you're not alone in this?

Mark, aw, thanks. Do I still get to be the rock you break yourself against? I was thinking of putting that on a business card.

Douglas, you showed him on the interviews, eh? :)

SM Schmidt, maybe we should advertise on craigslist for a nemesis.

lynnrush, I learned to drive in Oregon and Montana, so you'd think I'd be used to snow and mountains, but nope...I still hate it.

Jen, I wouldn't know anything about that either, but I've HEARD it's true :)

Valerie, your comment was so lovely it deserved to be up there twice.

katebakes, dangling carrots motivate me, too.

Anonymous, I can definitely relate to being infatuated with my characters. I may have even had a few dreams about the heroes I write.

Suz, negative blog comment? Who is he/she? Want me to beat someone up for you?

terripatrick, it was great seeing you, too! And seeing that lovely spinach & shrimp salad paired with french onion soup. Who needs originality? Oh, wait...that's Tuesday's blog post :)

Thanks for reading, guys!


Mark Simpson said...

Of course Tawna. Full disclosure: while I would love to take credit for that expression I believe I first heard it at the end of "Legends of the Fall". It was completely corny and over the top then, and thankfully still is.

I did, however (with no official recognition or credit whatsoever) in the mid-nineties invent the term "cougar" in its modern context--and for that contribution to pop culture I will be forever proud. (That's my story and I'm stickin' to it.) :)