Be Where You Are
In Homage to Catalonia, George Orwell describes his first experience of battle. He had spent some time thinking about how he wished to behave once the bullets actually started flying, and he was determined that he wouldn’t duck. It seemed pointless (it would be too late) and amateurish. Yet, as he lay in his foxhole, the enemy lines within rifle range, and that first crack echoed across No Man’s Land—he ducked. What can you do? I remember my first meeting with a flesh and blood literary agent. It was at a conference, and try as I may to be level and cool about things, I was quite petrified. I had an idea that I would sit down with her and she would take one look at me ask why I was wasting her time. I had even prepared a “How dare you!” speech. Honestly.
I ducked, you see. I couldn’t stand stories of how timid and uncertain people felt in these situations, and I had always thought, “Not me.” Oh, well. I don’t need to tell you that she was perfectly nice, and quite polite, and even asked to see my novel. Reality asserted itself upon my fears and all was well.
It does no good to sit around predicting what is going to happen. Good or bad, you will always be wrong. I ducked because I let my imagination wander unguided into the future and return with this monster it named Literary Agent. It was terrifying, but I did not recognize it for the phantom that it was. There is so much unknown and unknowable in the writing business. In life too, obviously, but it is easy to carve out some familiar paths – to and from work, to and from the grocery story, the school, your favorite restaurant – that events take on the illusion of predictability. In writing, it is much harder to fool yourself this way. Even novelists with a dozen published books under their belt don’t know how the next will be received.
This is why writing, for me anyway, is such a lesson in living in the moment. It is the moment that provides me with my inspiration, that guides me, and that, in the end, keeps me safe from all the monstrous nightmares of possible outcomes. All that could be isn’t yet if you are where you are.