A Book Sale Self-Reflection

Photo by Ed Robertson on Unsplash

I walked into the basement meeting room area of the local public library and like a kid on Christmas morning, my heart leapt with a mixture of joy and anticipation. I stopped for a moment in the doorway of the first room, the biggest, and breathed in the sight with a slight smile playing on my lips. The surface of every table—those lining the perimeter, as well as those huddled in the center—were covered, edge to edge, in cardboard berry flats. The border of each box, once responsible for encasing those plastic containers of raspberries and blueberries en route to a local grocery store, now surrounded what are probably my most favorite things ever: Books.

Yep, it was time for the semiannual Friends of the Library used book sale and as I perused the myriad titles (nicely organized and displayed spines up by a group of wonderful volunteers), I thought about how much has changed, how much I’ve changed, since the last sale I attended about year before.

Back then, I had just finished the first draft of my manuscript, had just received feedback from a reader for the very first time. I had a lot of work left to do. A lot of revamping. A lot of rewriting. I was anxious, unsure, doubtful of my ability, my stamina to see it through to fruition. So as I arrived at that book sale, I headed straight for the fiction section. I picked up best sellers and classic novels and works by timeless authors such as Shakespeare and Melville and Dickens with the hope that simply having the lyrical prose of these successful writers gracing my bookshelves would be enough to ignite my own creativity.

It didn’t work. For the next many months, I toiled. I wrote crappy sentence after crappy sentence while glaring at those still unread masterpieces and laboring under the delusion that writing—good, authentic writing—came from somewhere outside of myself. But then, with the help of coaches and authors and teachers whose wisdom surpasses mine by leaps and bounds, I discovered that the hard work, the real work of writing—even fiction writing—starts first with finding the truth within.

So, for the last many months, that’s what I’ve been doing. And as I shopped the book sale a couple weeks ago, rather than prioritizing those who I consider to be masters in the art of fiction, I searched for those who are experts in matters of the heart, purveyors of spiritual guidance, and fellow writers whose autobiographies mirror so many of my own struggles that I could cry with gratitude for their courage in sharing their vulnerabilities.

When I had run out of time—as a bibliophile, I must limit myself at these types of events or else suffer the consequences of too many purchases—I glanced quickly at the fiction section. My eyes immediately landed on several notable names whose work I greatly admire—Stephen King, Jodi Picoult, Emily Giffin—but instead of feeling hopeful that the tales of these masterful storytellers could somehow offer me some sort of osmotic burst of inspiration, I found myself filled with a different kind of optimism. I had done the work, I had a nearly completed novel manuscript in my possession, and for the first time since calling myself a writer, I considered the very real possibility that maybe, just maybe, my book might one day be nestled among them in a recycled berry flat.

A Purposeful WIP Practices Patience with the Process

As of Friday—should I keep on current pace—I will finish what I am considering to be the fourth and final draft of my novel manuscript. That means tomorrow afternoon I will be celebrating the completion of the writing portion of this process. (Next up is a line-by-line edit of spelling, grammar, usage, and punctuation.) And for those of you who have been with me on this journey from the beginning, you know this has been a long time coming. Three years, in fact.

Like most goals, this novel-writing process has felt incredibly drawn-out at times and has required a ton of patience. Certainly, when I decided that I was going to write a book, I had no idea it would take this long, and as many of us do these days, I viewed the undertaking through the lens of immediate gratification. We make a decision regarding some achievement we intend to conquer—be it novel writing or marathon running or weight loss—and we want to see results today.

Unfortunately, most (if not all) of the goals we pursue also involve a great deal of personal growth and development. And making any progress in those areas, especially sustainable progress, takes a lot of time. That’s where patience come in. In my experience, and perhaps in yours, there are two pesky traps that we often fall into that can impede our ability to practice patience in the midst of our goal and growth processes. (There are likely many more, but when considering the content for this post, these two stood out most prominently in my mind.)

First up is the discomfort provoked by transitional phases. When we are right now at Point A and our goal is to reach Point G, it’s not likely the initial step or two that will trip us up. Think about the last time you were gung ho about making progress in a certain area of your life. Getting started is the easy part, right? It’s in the middle, the plateau, when things level off, the novelty fades, and the reality of how difficult the goal really is sets in that we start questioning our perseverance. It’s when we have to decide whether or not to shed our old ways of doing things and step into the new. It’s when we have to decide whether this change will be permanent or temporary. Will we slide back into that which is comfortable or continue moving forward toward the creation of an improved—albeit difficult to achieve—normal? Being the creatures of habit that we are, change is tough, but it’s the fear and uncertainty of that in-between stage that can keep us stuck on a vicious circle of starting and stopping, starting and stopping.

The other thing that often gets in our way of being patient with our own process is comparison. We look at other people who are where we want to be and we yearn to be in their shoes. We sit down to start writing a novel and when it doesn’t read at all like the many NYT bestselling books, we quit. We head to the gym with renewed determination to get in shape and after week one when our arms don’t resemble the buff babe on the treadmill next to us, we don’t step foot in the place again. We set out to reach our goal, but when our journey doesn’t look like someone else’s we retreat.

But what would happen if we reminded ourselves that our story is not meant to resemble anyone else’s? What would happen if we stopped doubting ourselves in the midst of transition and instead recognized these stages as beautiful opportunities for growth? Maybe then we would stop comparing ourselves to others. Maybe then we could own and embrace our path, our process, our progress and offer ourselves the patience and grace we need to grow at our own pace.

Pause and Be Happy

Photo by Andre Hunter on Unsplash

Have you ever heard someone utter the phrase, “I can’t wait until [fill in the blank].” Or perhaps you, yourself, use it with regularity. I know I do. I can’t wait until summer. I can’t wait until we’re all moved into our house. I can’t wait until the kids start school. I can’t wait until retirement. I can’t wait until Dolly gets her sutures removed.

That last one is me right now. Dolly had surgery a week ago to remove a growth on her backside and as much as it’s probably been a literal pain in the you-know-what for her, it’s also been a cause for constant worry for me. Repeated checks of the surgery site, monitoring her appetite and food/water intake, wondering if I should call the vet about this sign or that symptom, determining whether her whines and whimpers mean I should have given her a higher dose of the pain medication or that she’s just annoyed over the unfairness of having to sleep in her kennel at night.

None of this is normal.

Dolly is as low-maintenance as a dog can be. Her overall health is generally good given her age and all she requires is a regular serving of food (which she usually gobbles up the instant it hits her dish), a daily walk, and a spot at the foot of the bed when it’s time to turn in at the end of the day. And as much as I don’t want to wish October away, it’s hard for me not to look forward to having her back to her old self.

And so it goes. Sometimes the normalcy of our lives can be so humdrum and routine that we feel like we’re sleepwalking, but throw a wrench in the monotony and suddenly the predictability looks pretty appealing. But there will always be wrenches. Life is full of unpleasantness, things we grin and bear and deal with until the storm or the sickness or the terrible twos finally pass.

But then what? Chances are good that most of us will not feel that sought-after contentment once we reach those “I can’t waits.” In all likelihood, we will probably already be looking forward to the next thing or the next event or the next milestone occasion that we think will offer peace and joy and satisfaction.

The trick is to find that contentment right now. Right here in the midst of all the chaos and cold weather and periods of transition. It was French writer, Guillaume Apollinaire, who is quoted as saying, “Now and then it’s good to pause in our pursuit of happiness and just be happy.”

What can you pause and be happy about today?

A Purposeful WIP Owns Opportunities

A couple of years ago, I started taking piano lessons. Ignited by my desire to become at least a semi-competent amateur, I hired a teacher who led me through the ins and outs of chords and scales and style, and almost immediately my skills began to show marked improvement. It wasn’t the instructor alone that had an impact on my abilities, but my determination to practice, practice, practice. At some point every day, my butt found its way to that piano bench where I repeatedly banged out that week’s homework assignment until I could practically play it with my eyes closed.

Three months later, for reasons I no longer recall, I suddenly decided I didn’t have sufficient time to practice. Not wanting to waste my teacher’s time or my money, I stopped the lessons with the notion that I could continue on my own. As you might imagine, I didn’t. It wasn’t until about two weeks ago that I realized how much I missed playing the piano—an activity that is, to me, almost meditative—and so resolved to resume my self-led sessions.

Did something change, freeing me up for a set block of time on a daily basis? No. And in fact, my schedule is fuller now than it was back when I determined myself to be too busy for professional instruction. If my schedule didn’t change, you might be wondering what did. Well, it was simply a matter of Owning Opportunities.

There’s no doubt that becoming purposeful with our goals and intentional with our self-growth and development requires an investment of time. There’s also no doubt that in the midst of our often overwhelmed, overcommitted, overstuffed lives, time is a precious commodity of which there never seems to be enough. But how much time does it really take to pursue a goal? How many sixty-second increments do we really need to devote to an activity in order to make progress?

While my available free time didn’t change, my answers to these questions did. Initially, I thought honing my piano-playing skills required the dedication of at least a full hour every night. But then I asked myself what it would look like if I just owned every opportunity I had to practice. Some days that might be twenty minutes. Some days it’s only long enough to get through my warm-ups. But embracing even the smallest slices of time with focused attention can lead to maximum growth.

And so I ask you, how much time do you need to take a step in the direction of your own goals? Are you writing a novel, but only have fifteen minutes a day to devote to it? Then do it. Want to create a gym habit, pick up a new hobby, start a business, read more books, but can only spare your one-hour lunch break? Use it.

It might also be beneficial to revisit your essentials. Are you saying yes to things that don’t align with your priorities simply to avoid feelings of guilt or maybe even to avoid stepping out of your comfort zone to do something new? Review your calendar with a fine-tooth comb. Is it really a lack of time that’s holding you back or something else? Substituting the excuse of being too busy is much easier than naming the underlying cause for complacency. Like fear. In our society, busyness is often viewed as honorable, whereas fear is not. And if we continue cramming our schedules full of nonessentials, we can remain safe behind the barrier of our time-limitation justifications. We say things like, “I’ll go after that big dream after: the kids are in school, the kids are out of school, I retire, etc., etc.”

But time does not just magically appear, my friends. We are each given twenty-four hours in a day and that will not change tomorrow or next week or ten years from the present. Right now, this moment, is all that’s promised to us. We need to use it wisely. We need to learn to say yes to our essentials. We need to own each and every opportunity we’re given to be our best selves and live our best lives.