Today is Ernest Hemingway’s birthday. As some of you know, this interests me because I am obsessed with Hemingway, but for most of you, why should you care? You should care because Hemingway knew how to give himself a gift, and I want you, today, right now, while reading this post, to pledge to do the same for yourself.
One of Hemingway’s most notable gifts to himself was a large, expensive boat he named Pilar. If you are independently wealthy or have married a very wealthy second spouse, as he did, I think a large, expensive boat could give you as much happiness as it did Hemingway. But if you are a writer in company with most other writers, making what writers tend to make these days, I’ll give you another suggestion.
While I’ve written my entire life, I’ve been seriously committed to the novel form and full time writing for a decade. I’ve given myself lots of little writer gifts like outstanding books on craft and inspiration, novels by my friends, and little match-books with Hemingway and Fitzgerald book covers. These small tokens are important and inspirational, but they are no match for the gift of meeting other writers and people involved in publishing, which is the gift I want you to pledge to give yourself this year.
The first time I gave this gift to myself, I signed up for a writer’s retreat. I didn’t have a lot of money and I was eight months pregnant with my second child (yes, that’s right) so I knew I couldn’t venture too far from home. I found a retreat within forty-five minutes of my house. To cover the cost, I asked my husband, my parents, and my in-laws to give me money toward the retreat instead of Christmas gifts. Their gifts helped pay for the retreat, and from it many positive things resulted.
- Others read and critiqued my novel for the first time ever.
- I was able to critique the work of other writers.
- Total immersion in writing for five days straight without distraction was priceless.
- I made lifelong friends.
- Going to that retreat sent a message to my family, my friends, and most important, to myself—the message that I was making a public act declaring myself a writer and committing to it.
Over the years, I’ve continued to pass the writing conference collection plate to my loved ones on birthdays and holidays, and with each conference I’ve attended, I’ve reached a new level in my profession. The ways I’ve grown from attending retreats, meeting other writers, and dedicating time to my own writing have far outweighed any sacrifice of time or money I’ve made to make them. (I hope my loved ones feel the same.)
In this time of social media connections, which are important and have led to many of my “real life” meet ups, don’t forget that the highest value of interaction and communication comes from meeting others face to face. Whether you ask a Twitter friend to coffee, attend a local book signing of your favorite author, or save a thousand dollars to attend a major writing conference in New York City, every chance at personal connections is a gift to you and to others.
In light of all of this, please make a promise to yourself today, on Hemingway’s birthday, to shower extravagant time and attention on your passion.
You are worth it.
*Photo courtesy of Potapova at DeviantArt.com.