One thing that being middle-aged has brought me (along with creaky knees and, as my hairdresser once commented, “platinum highlights”) is the beginning of a sense of perspective.
This has proved true in my own life, and in my writing career. I’ve had some amazing highs—the deep satisfaction of nailing an idea after weeks of floundering; starred reviews that sent me flying out the door to walk the streets of my neighborhood until I calmed down enough to get back to work. I’ve also had my share of dismal lows—the five year period when I did not sell a single manuscript; the review in a major newspaper that called my writing style, and I quote, “irritating.” Ouch.
I’ve pursued intriguing book ideas that sometimes work out beautifully (see “high”, above), and sometimes bite the dust after weeks or months of work (and that would be a “low”).
But as the list of highs and lows grows longer, it does make it a little easier to step back, take a deep breath, and then soldier on. Perspective.
About 20 years ago, some of you may recall, there was a national advertising campaign to Name the Raisins—an animated (literally) rock band that sang “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” on TV commercials.
My husband and I were in school, we were broke, and I really wanted to win the $10,000 prize. Besides, how hard could it be to name a piece of dried fruit?
I like raisins. Truly, I do. And the fact that you had to submit raisin box tops with your raisin names meant that we ate a lot of raisins that month. I even made a sour cream raisin pie, a mistake I will not repeat.
Over the course of that month my long-suffering husband and I managed to eat enough raisins for me to submit three names—three glorious raisin names—to the judges.
I tried to think what fun raisins would be like. I didn’t want boring names. I wanted my raisins to have style. To be spunky and just a little bit sassy. MY raisins would have PERSONALITY.
Amazin’ Raisin. Jammin’ Raisin (they were in a rock band, after all). And my own personal favorite, Misbehavin’ Raisin.
I sent in my names, sat back, and watched the grand prize go… to whoever invented the name Tiny Goodbite.
I was outraged. How could Tiny Goodbite compete with that finger-wagging rogue, Misbehavin’ Raisin? Somehow, a Tiny raisin had bested him.
So what did I learn from the raisin days? That it’s good writing practice to be playful, to think about character, to have a little fun. That even if your ideas are not embraced by the powers-that-be, there is a benefit to exploring them anyway.
And, of course, never to make that pie ever again.