I’m a freelance journalist. Sometimes I write stories that come with praise; sometimes I write stories that need enough editing to interfere with the next day’s schedule.
And sometimes I’m so busy I wind up having my late-afternoon snack as my dinner. Like today (freshly baked apples with cinnamon and sugar – yum!), when I’m smack in the middle of a massively heavy workload. Eighteen deadlines in 28 days.
I’m in the library at church while my daughter is at youth group downstairs. (The library rocks, by the way. I love to flip through books by C.S. Lewis and Anne Lamott, and periodicals with cover stories titled: “The Word-Soaked World: Troubling the Lexicon of Art and Faith.”)
I brought my laptop because I should be writing a magazine piece about a woman who wants to develop a sustainable, agriculture-style residential community for adults with special needs. But with all these deadlines – some of which have been able to be met earlier than expected, thank goodness, because the extra time allowed me to recover from a source who stood me up yesterday – I started second-guessing the quality of the work I’ve been turning in. The doubts emerged even though an editor, after reading one of my assignments earlier today, concluded her email with: “Many thanks, as always, for your good work!” And then a Twitterfriend, after reading my latest blog entry a few hours ago, wrote: “LOVE reading this post…slowed me down just to read it…the words breathe with the images…lovely.”
How can a writer not be on the top of the world with such validation?
I’ll tell you. After two weeks, I still haven’t heard from an editor who assigned me a story for a new publication he’s helping to launch, and my stomach is in knots. This is a guy I’ve worked with on other projects for more than 15 years, so he knows my work well, but he’d been clear that this assignment would be different. It required a significant number of technical interviews and an authoratative-yet-smooth voice. If I was a good fit, he’d use me again and up my pay. I wanted to nail it. But without feedback, despite two e-mails asking for some, the only thing I can possibly deduce is that my article really, really sucks.
I decide to call from the library. I’ve tried twice already today but with no luck. This time, my editor answers on the third ring.
“Hi. I won’t keep you,” I say. “I just wanted to know if you were going to be able to use my story.”
He says of course. He says I was right on the mark, and that my next assignment (hello, raise!) will be coming in early January.
“Well, thanks for telling me!” I blurt out with a mixture of relief and jest.
I hang up and laugh at myself for getting all worked up, for having that tension jeopardize my confidence in what I’m doing. Now I don’t feel like working. I feel like writing instead about how circular self-awareness can be: We know we’re talented, yet we re-read what we write and wonder why those words ever sounded good together; we realize people appreciate our storytelling, then mistrust the revelations we have about where our plot points should be.
It’s the yin and yang of creative fulfillment, I guess.
How do you experience and deal with the ride?