Operation, Sloths, and Finding the Joy

operationWhen I was 8 years old, there was nothing I wanted more than the board game, OPERATION. It just looked so fun, with the tweezers and tiny organs, and the wonderfully startling BZZZZZZZ! that would happen when you made a mistake. I truly thought, that if I only had OPERATION, my life would be complete. On Christmas morning, I was thrilled to wake up and find it underneath the tree in all its red-nosed, anatomically-incorrect, naked-man glory. It only took a couple of times playing it to realize that it was much harder than it looked. Only the steadiest of hands could grab that miniature wishbone. And don’t get me started on the writer’s cramp. Impossible! The buzzing that looked so funny on the commercials quickly became annoying and tiresome. And, let’s be honest…a little bit hazardous! Were those actual electric shocks making my fingers tingle?

When we’re little, we really do believe that if we just have this one thing, life will be perfect. In Jenny Offill’s sweet picture book, SPARKY, she writes brilliantly of a child’s desire for a pet. The main character wants a pet, ANY pet, so badly that she’s willing to agree to anything. So when her mom promises that she can have one, as long as it “doesn’t need to be walked or bathed or fed,” this little girl is determined to find one that fits the bill. And she does. Sparky the sloth arrives by Express Mail, but isn’t quite the pet the girl expected him to be.
Let’s be honest, sometimes the reality of the writing life is disappointing. And like OPERATION, or SPARKY, sometimes I wonder if the dream of being a writer is actually better than the reality. We dream of finishing a novel, and when we do we are elated! Until we read the novel we wrote and realize that it is 179 edits away from being ready. We dream of landing an agent, so we query like crazy with the 180th version of our manuscript, only to be faced with complete radio silence. We dream of publication, but the rejections stack up and tip over and we become annoyed, and tired, and start to wonder…is this really worth it? When faced with the reality of the life of a writer, what happens to us?

When SPARKY first arrives, the little girl tries to get him to do the things she thinks a pet should. She tries to get him to roll over or speak. She tries to play fetch with him. Her friend Mary arrives, looks down her nose at SPARKY, and tells the girl that HER pets can dance and do all kinds of tricks. And it makes the little girl wonder if maybe SPARKY is not such a great pet after all.

These are the sorts of things I am susceptible to in the writing community. I look at the journeys of other writers and wonder what is wrong with me. Why does my path curve left instead of right? When I’m doing that, I can’t even look around and enjoy the scenery on my road because I’m so busy craning my neck to see what I might be missing on the other side. And instead of accepting that my path is different, I want to try to make it fit the way I think it “should” go. Like the little girl in SPARKY, I can’t always see my sloth for what he is and accept him in all of his glorious sloth-i-ness, because I am too preoccupied with trying to make him act like Mary’s pet bird!

Let me tell you a story. I am writing my first novel. Up until now, I’ve only written picture books. But I’m writing a middle grade novel and have no real training, other than being in the kidlit world and reading lots of books. So I wrote the first draft and got stuck, having no idea how to start editing. So I thought, I KNOW, I’ll read something awesome. So I picked up CIRCUS MIRANDUS by Cassie Beasley and absolutely adored it. But you know what happened? It paralyzed me. It was so magical, and lovely, and beautifully written, that I put down my own work and said, “Why bother?” Anything I write will never be as wonderful as this. I can’t write like this! So you know what I did? I took a break and went back to picture books. I wrote a new picture book. I polished it up, I sent it out. I found the joy. And now, I am back to my middle grade novel. Because I have realized that I am not Cassie Beasley, and the things I write are nothing like CIRCUS MIRANDUS. And that is okay. Because I am Amy Dixon, and I accept myself in all my glorious Amy-Dixon-ous-ness.

So. All of that to say, my writing and submitting friends…embrace the reality of YOUR path, whatever it may be. Just because the writing life is difficult, doesn’t mean we have to toss it into the back of the closet with the board games that weren’t that fun. The disappointment may be a part of the reality, but so is the joy. There’s joy when we write a really good scene, even if we’re the only ones reading it. There’s joy when we get the slightest bit of positive feedback from an agent or editor. And there’s joy in celebrating success with one another in this community, even when it’s not ours. Find the joy!

24 thoughts on “Operation, Sloths, and Finding the Joy

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  1. I, too, have a sloth of a story. I wanted it to be just like that gorgeous parrot…. but it is acting so different. Thanks for reminding us to be more observant about the pet – er, story – that we DO have…


  2. Such excellent points, Amy! I often find myself looking ahead for my joy: “Life will be better when x happens.” But there will always be something else we need for our “perfect” life, and meanwhile there’s so much joy in the moment if we look for it. Thank you for the reminder!


  3. Amy! This is so lovely and inspirational. I am going to go dig into the revisions that I’ve been putting off right now!


  4. Oh Amy you had me at Sloth. This resonated so much with me and I’ve also recently read Circus Mirandus. I enjoyed it but I wasn’t discouraged rather invigorated to do something different, like I felt Cassie Beasley had done. Keep writing and don’t give up on your middle grade


    1. Thanks, Julie! Isn’t it interesting how different books hit us at different times? That’s why I love rereading things that I loved, or even hated…because who knows how it will speak to me this time?


  5. Were you inside my head this week? I truly felt like you were talking to ME. I almost constantly feel like “Why can’t I be on THAT path? Why am I on THIS path? The easier one. The one where things happen for writers faster. The one where it’s not so hard.” And your words made me remember that the grass isn’t always greener over there. Cue Bobby McFerron – Don’t worry…
    Thank you for pouring your heart into mine in your post.


  6. Oh my goodness, Amy, you are speaking directly to me!!! The operation game of publishing world and the slothiness of writing are so worth it for the little moments of pure joy when one puts down a completely lovely sentence, paragraph or page! It is often hard to focus on those moments instead of the tingling buzz of rejection. Thanks for redirecting me! 🙂


  7. Amy, yours were the perfect words to hear right now. I had a terrible year last year of doubting myself, of not writing much and had resolved this year to SHINE (my OLW for 2016). But I have only inched forward and not really embraced my writing. I still must be looking at other paths. Thank you, thank you for enlightening me!


  8. It’s very easy to become discouraged by comparing oneself with already successful writers. Great advice to keep in mind when that happens!


  9. Great post Amy. I am inspired. I share in your weakness. It’s so easy to defeat ourselves by comparing ourselves to others. Jackie Morris in the art world does me in for her beautiful illustrations. I’ll keep my inner sloth in mind.


  10. Reblogged this on Sensibility and Sense and commented:
    Absolutely love this post from Amy Dixon about the writing life. We all face these days, weeks, months (years), when the destination feels so far and the journey isn’t as sweet as we’d imagined. But realizing no two people have exactly the same story and that you do you better than anyone else can help. Thanks Amy!


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