My son, Shane, didn’t stay in gymnastics for too long. After a while he got bored with the routines, we got a trampoline at home that he had fun jumping on, and swimming seemed like a good thing for the kids to learn.
So I took them out of the gym and put them into the pool.
A few years later, Shane joined the dive team. He was eleven, and he was better than his high school teammates. The coach said, “Your son has such control over his body. You don’t see this often in a kid so young.”
Shane was a born athlete. Just before he turned two he got a plastic bat and ball for Christmas. I was amazed to find that he could hit the ball every time I tossed it to him. He wasn’t just aware of, and able to control, his own body, he also was aware of the bat and ball. He had a great command of himself and the space around him.
His dive coach put him into an Olympics program where he competed in one meet, taking a gold going against a higher age group than his own. But what does Shane do today?
Shane works in a FedEx warehouse. He started as a package handler. He’s managing package handlers now and planning to move up in the company, I think. It’s a job that he’s well suited for. There are plenty of people around him—the kid is a total extrovert—and there’s a load of competition. His first month there he got the “package handler of the month” award. And he still often beats the other managers by having the fastest team. He thrives on competition.
Could Shane have been an Olympic diver or swimmer (he was a super fast swimmer—long, strong arms, and wide, flat feet)? I think so. But here’s the deal. We all have limitations. Just because he was good at diving and swimming, doesn’t mean that God created him for those things.
We all have limitations.
Way back in Shane and Nikki’s preschool days, when they were done with their gym lessons all the kids would gather in a huddle and they would put their hands on top of each other. Their coaches, a husband and wife team who were of the Bahai faith, would whisper some inspirational huddle talk to them and then the kids would shout, “I can do all things!”
And as we drove home many afternoons, I’d work to counteract that proclamation. “Can you really do all things?” I’d ask. “Can you eat a wheelbarrow full of ice cream? Can you run as fast as the car? Can you fly?”
No. Clearly, there are some things we can’t do. God didn’t give us the ability to fly.
Along with the limitations God has put on us, though, we also have limitations that we put on ourselves. Could Shane have stayed with the dive team and pursued Olympic dreams?
That would have required a two-week, sleep-away summer camp with a man who may or may not have been a decent fellow, and Shane was just eleven, and that was not OK with me.
I had a friend back then who had served time for sexual abuse of minors and I was aware that many pedophiles choose jobs that put them in close contact with kids. My husband and I chose to limit Shane’s away-from-home time, so the Olympic dive program was no longer an option.
And, finally, I get to you, dear writers.
What will make you happiest?
You are also limited. You probably can’t spend your limited writing time on an MG novel, on an adult nonfiction, and on blogging. When we make one choice, other options are lost to us. If you decide to work full time in children’s writing, you won’t be able to work full time writing for tech magazines.
So what will you choose? Maybe you can be a New York Times bestselling novelist if you set yourself on that path. After all, we have learned to fly. We’ve learned to get around the natural limitation of having no wings. So what if you read every bestseller on the list at which you are aiming and then draw a bunch of conclusions about what is selling? What are the commonalities? On which page does the inciting incident fall? Is the protagonist male or female? How many secondary characters? How many subplots? What if you spend five years submersed in the bestsellers? What if you practice and practice and practice? Will you be able to write a bestseller?
I think, maybe, yes.
I know I drive some students crazy with my courses because I’m giving them boring, basic rules about how to use words when what they want from me is a little magic. But writing is not magic. Writing is just using tools. It’s just doing a brain dump and then going back and fixing things. Stories follow patterns. Stories can be taken apart and put back together. Writing can be learned.
Can you be a best-selling author? Could Shane have been an Olympic diver? Probably, yes, to both questions.
But will you be happy? Do you want to sacrifice family life? Will the payoff be worth the price?
Make your choices and then forget the roads not taken.
Maybe you can make it work. I’m not here to make decisions for you. But I do want you to think about whether you might find something besides bestsellerdom that will make you happy. Something else that will utilize your talents and suit your personality. Is there a FedEx of the writing world that might work for you?
Nothing is any different now than it was when my children were three. We can’t do all things. We all have to make our choices. We all have to sacrifice some things in order to get other things. If you have enough time and money, you can become a bestseller. You can learn how to write and how to build a platform and how to market. Most of us don’t want to spend all our time and money on it, though. Just as most people don’t want to spend four hours a day practicing dives or triple lutz jumps.
I intend to talk about some of the different directions we can go with our writing in upcoming posts. Meanwhile, give this some thought. What do you really want and how much do you want it? Is there a way you can use your skills to follow after lower goals that will give you a lot of enjoyment? Or do you feel that you can’t be happy without attaining the higher goals, no matter what sacrifice is required?