In the midst of a luxury hotel in the Sonoran Desert, I should be having the perfect holiday. Palm trees sway overhead, the sun warms my back, and the fragrance of a thousand annual blossoms tickles my nose. Then my husband scans the depths of the artificial lake before us.
“Uh, Jan, why is the water turquoise?”
Sometimes I wish we weren’t the kind of people who notice such things. To be honest, it’s a buzz-kill. But once alerted, we also observe there are no insects, no aquatic weeds, and what water fowl are present only skirt the edge of the lake, yet never choose to swim…
The answer to his question, of course, is that choices beget consequences. Some time ago, hotel management decided that guests and desert landscaping didn’t mix. Kids would do better if they chased their balls onto lawns instead of into the prickly pear, margaritas tasted better unsanded, and snakes didn’t deserve the opportunity to be charming dinner companions.
Landscapers elected to go with a cultivated and careful beauty near the hotel, and because irrigation and chemicals make it possible, that aesthetic simply spread. And spread. Perhaps beyond the boundaries of what is sustainable and best.
Does this metaphor apply in your writing life? I know it does in mine.
I’ve noticed a tendency for writers to devalue their natural talents, perhaps because the writing can feel easier. (Not “easy”, because writing is seldom that.) Sometimes I think we are so used to telling stories about struggle, we believe that’s the only way to exist. If it isn’t hard, it doesn’t count. If we aren’t wrung out by the process, it can’t contain much worth.
Sometimes we have preconceptions about what a real writing career looks like and spend inordinate amounts of energy to get there.
For instance, I know people who write amazing novels who feel less-than because they can’t write short. I see people who write killer flash fiction who despair because they don’t write long.
There are people who write incredible blog posts who don’t feel they are writers; others who craft amazing non-fiction, yet apologize for taking up space in a group of novelists.
Some of us fixate on a genre and won’t consider another — even when we’re struggling and the alternative promises to suit our voice.
We can speculate about why there’s so much tendency to distrust certain kinds of beauty, and to contort ourselves into uncomfortable shapes, but one thing I’ve observed: when a writer makes room for their natural talents, when they finally honor their intrinsic gifts, that’s when magic occurs. Their page counts increase; they find their agent or publisher; they sell their short story or novel; they come to feel of use.
In the end, “bloom where you are planted” is excellent advice. Be proactive in the face of adversity. Learn resilience. Triumph despite it all.
But don’t forget to plant where you’re blooming. It isn’t cheating to paddle downstream if you were always meant for the ocean. It isn’t lazy to seek out joy and give it back to the world. You aren’t inferior if you aim for the confluence of natural ability and marketplace. I’d argue that makes you brilliant.
As for my desert metaphor, there are hotel guests who’d prefer a poolside cactus garden to a stridently verdant lawn, even if that means a little sand in their swim shorts. I know, because I’m in their party.
Are you one of the people who stopped fighting your gifts and found your niche? If so, what would you tell your fellow writers? What tipped you into the change?