My end-of-month guest for Peace Garden Writer, Beth Dotson Brown, has been gracing my inbox for more than a decade now through a Catholic writers’ email list; a group that has offered abundant support and encouragement to me in the freelance journey. Beth is among the voices on that list that I find especially peaceful and comforting. I’m so pleased to highlight some of her insight into the writing life today. May her words offer you encouragement as you push forward in the sometimes difficult but often rewarding pursuit of writing.
Blessing in the Detours of the Writing Life
When Roxane asked me to write a guest post for her blog, I gladly welcomed the invitation. I had just resumed teaching an elementary school creative writing class, met with the after school girls’ writing group I facilitate and was in the midst of preparing to attend the Kentucky Women Writers Conference. Surely, I thought, something among all of that would provide inspiration.
Indeed, the students reminded me of my own childlike curiosity and creativity; two speakers at the conference gave me an idea for making my writing schedule more productive. All of that good energy was flowing onto the page, then . . . our kitchen sink backed up, the toilet began gurgling and we ended up with a sewage tank in our driveway to prevent the backflow from our neighbors’ homes from flooding into our house.
But that wasn’t all. I resolved to begin anew on Monday and not let the house problem distract me from my writing work, even though I could see the tank through my office window. As they worked to repair the city sewer system, I turned on my shower to warm the water, put my hand under the cold stream to test the temperature, then waited and waited and waited. There was no hot water.
Oh my. Sometimes things just don’t go as planned.
That’s certainly been the case for my writing career. As a seven-year-old, I decided I wanted to be a novelist. As a 12-year-old I made up my mind I also needed to study journalism because maybe writing novels wasn’t so practical.
As a 49-year-old, I’m trying to do both because regardless of the change in plans, some dreams never die. Those dreams can also enrich life in unpredictable ways.
Twenty years ago when I decided to make a go of freelancing as a writer and editor, I chose that path for a few reasons. I thought that I would be able to pursue assignments about subjects that interested me and could make a positive contribution to society. I also wanted to make more choices about how I spent my work day so that, when possible, I could pursue my love of fiction writing. What that ultimately meant to me was having more freedom regarding what I spent my time on every day, whether it was work, being with friends or family, volunteering in the community or whatever else seemed most important to me. Rather than letting the pursuit of money drive the direction of my life, I wanted God to lead me where I needed to go.
The gifts I’ve received from that choice have been tremendous. I’ve spent time with people from so many walks of life—athletes, entertainers, full-time volunteers, environmental activists. Parents who struggle to provide for their families, women who have suffered abuse, individuals who survived war, people who are thankful for the most basic amenities like food and shelter—they’ve all shared their stories, invited me into their lives. By doing so, they have made my life, and my writing, richer. They’ve also contributed to my understanding of who we are as children in God’s creation.
I may never be a millionaire. Freelancing isn’t a lucrative career choice, especially when you write primarily for nonprofit organizations and Catholic publications. I’m also unlikely to garner worldwide fame, although I felt a warm happiness spread through me recently when a 12-year-old told me her favorite book is the one I wrote —Yes! I Am Catholic. That’s the sort of thing that brings me happiness and fulfills me.
My research and interviews as a journalist also inform my work as a fiction writer, an area where I’ve enjoyed a few successes. I continue to pursue publishing my first novel. During writing retreats and even when a sewage truck in my driveway tries to distract me, I carve out time for my creative work. Through all the distractions, that seven-year-old’s dream has continued to thrive.
I’m sure there will be more detours along my path. I won’t try to avoid them. I hope you don’t either. It’s possible that it’s just those side trips through which God sets us on the path we’re supposed to be traveling today.
[Keep up with Beth’s gardening journey on her blog, The Goodness of the Garden.]
Q4U: If you have any questions for Beth, please share them here!