On Writing, Reading, and Seeking Direction

I feel I owe regular readers of this blog an apology…or at minimum, an explanation. Save for a passionate and far-too-long-to-be-seemly post about homework in my children’s elementary school, I haven’t written much in about 10 days. Some fine questions in the comments section about my post on gender selection remain unanswered. I have always compared blogging to inviting people, including random strangers, into my living room for conversation, and have always promised that, as a good hostess, I would respond. And would also keep the conversation going. I have been a poor hostess this last week or so.

There’s much beyond, and below, my relative silence. A puppy getting spayed and needing more attention than usual. A daughter finally getting the go-ahead for some much-needed dental surgery, and all of the scheduling and pre-op work that comes with that. A speaking engagement at a gorgeous old stone church in Fairfield County. The usual stuff of family life.

But more than busy-ness, there has been a questioning. A vocational questioning. To put it simply, I got to a place in which I longed to have a job in which people care whether I show up to work or not.

I was born to write, I’ve been called to write, I cannot NOT write. I know these things. But the reality of the writing life is not an easy one. It certainly isn’t a lucrative one, although money has never been why I wanted to be a writer anyway. I can live without earning much by my words. But I do long for readers, recognition, to be considered successful. The hard part about being a writer, of course, is that short of becoming one of the handful of authors who always make the best-seller list, success comes in fits and starts—with much dead silence in between. You get a great book review and feel amazing, and then take a peek at your blog stats and feel like crap. My friend and book editor, who is a fine writer in her own right, told me that it never gets easier, this writing for a living. Never. Her latest book has been her most successful, making a number of “best of” lists and leading to invitations to speak in some relatively high-profile places. Still, she says, it never stops being hard.

The past few weeks have seen the publication of a number of lists, of influential bloggers, influential women, influential writers. I never expected to make such lists. And yet, seeing others—colleagues and friends—make those lists has also been difficult. It has made me realize how far I am, still, from the career I hoped to have when I started blogging and book-writing three years ago. And then, in the aftermath of those lists, when writer after writer said, “We shouldn’t be working for acclaim, we should be working for God alone, and because we love it,” I felt guilty for wanting the acclaim and attention that many friends and colleagues and acquaintances have attained.

Then two upstart, outspoken Rachels (both of whom I think highly of, and one of whom is my close friend) held up their hands and said, “Wait. Just wait a minute.” Of course we long for success and acclaim and recognition. That’s what people do. And hey, why is the advice to work for God alone and not worry about getting recognition so often aimed at women anyway? Women can be ambitious too.

I felt better. And I called a halt to my very short-lived hunt for a part-time job that would come with a paycheck and the reassurance that, if I didn’t show up for work, someone would notice. Daniel and I decided that, even if I found a job that only required my attention during school hours, my being home during the day, able to attend to pets and groceries and chores and sick children, makes our family life run more smoothly.

So I decided I’ll keep blogging after all, knowing that sometimes what I write strikes a chord, and sometimes it doesn’t, and that’s okay. I also have the germ of an idea for a new book, expanding on the ideas in this blog post.

Mostly, though, I’ve been reading, which is what I do when I feel unmoored, uncertain, tired, frustrated. I’ve read Gone Girl (creepy and attention-sucking, with an unsatisfactory ending), The Light Between Oceans (lovely, sad, true), a whole mess of histories of Tudor England, and right now Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend by my friend Matt Dicks.

The Christian Century just posted a wonderful article about reading fiction as spiritual discipline. For me, it is just that. More than prayer or worship, reading is where I turn to feel grounded, to seek both the most important questions and some of their answers, for solace and camaraderie and challenge. The article quotes James Baldwin, “You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who had ever been alive.”

I’ll be back to regular blogging next week. I’ll answer those remaining questions in the comment thread about gender selection as best I can. I’ll keep writing, I’ll keep reading, and see where I end up.

 

 

 

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About Ellen Painter Dollar

Ellen Painter Dollar is a writer focusing on faith, parenting, family, disability, and ethics. She is the author of No Easy Choice: A Story of Disability, Faith, and Parenthood in an Age of Advanced Reproduction (Westminster John Knox, 2012). Visit her web site at http://ellenpainterdollar.com for more on her writing and speaking, and to sign up for a (very) occasional email newsletter.


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