I will begin by saying: this is the advice I write to myself. What follows is more my aspiration than my wisdom, but I pray it nourishes you all the same.
Before I wrote my first novel, I used to graze the center tables of bookstores, fingering richly illustrated covers, turning them over to read - not the back cover synopses, but the endorsements above and below them. "Magical" was a favorite word, as was "enchanting." When I read these things, I wove a dream that they were written about my book, the one I was going to write one day.
Imagine, then, how I felt when I spotted this from an issue of Pages Magazine:*
"If you know the novels of Steve Erickson... then you've glimpsed the dizzying zoetrope of history in all its shadows and light, drunk hard from a future that is mad and chaotic and a perfect extension of a past that is just as vertiginous, and emerged from the journey with a soul both wiped entirely clean - that is, redeemed - and with a greater sense of moral and spiritual obligation than you've ever felt before. You come out of an Erickson novel simply knowing what you must do, who you must be, how the beat of your heart and the burn of your dreams relate, almost umbilically, to a future that could be far off or almost already happening, but is certainly on a collision course with you."
I'll give you a moment to catch your breath. I certainly need one. It's the Mount Everest of all endorsements, isn't it? And here we stand gazing up from the valley with our Keds on.
I had to look up zoetrope**, and also vertiginous***. I hold little hope that either word will ever have much to do with my writing.
The trouble with following big dreams is that they can grow so big that they cease to inspire and commense to frighten us. We mean to put on our boots and begin with a hey and a ho, but we feel suddenly, strangely tired, and decide instead to begin with a nap.
I'm going to buck conventional wisdom, now. Prepare for a shock. I'm going to suggest we let go of our dreams.
Can we drop them right now, just let them fall?
Of course we can. We are believers here. If we weren't it would be harder, because then who would dream for us?
But there is One who dreams for us. He said, "I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."
See there? There is a future, and it is indeed on a collision course with us. It could be far off or almost already happening; we may not know exactly what it is.
And meantime, what must we do?
I think we must write the next word. Make it the simplest, truest word we have in us, and then write the next one after that. And in the interest of simplicity and truth, we must resolve above all to pay attention. Take seriously the eyes to see and ears to hear thing. It is easy to let the commentaries tell us what's out there, but we must read and listen and look through our own senses until we know what those senses, our own, have told us.
I spent much of last week cleaning closets, culling out a mountain of stuff I don't need. It surprised me, what I was willing to let go of, and it surprises me still, how good it feels to have it gone, how this new measure of simplicity allows me to stretch and breathe.
I think I'll add my zoetrope dreams to the pile.
How about you? Do you have dreams that have robbed you of elbow room? What might happen, do you think, if you put them in the rummage sale and just sat down to write?
Do tell. We love to read what you have to say.
*Why did they cancel Pages Magazine? Why?
**An optical toy, in which figures made to revolve on the inside of a cylinder, and viewed through slits in its circumference, appear like a single figure passing through a series of natural motions as if animated or mechanically moved
***Having or causing a whirling sensation; liable to falling