A month ago, my friend, another writer, bought me a gift. It was a box with nothing in it. But when I opened it up, I got my gift. My little wooden box erupted into applause, the kind that makes you want to take a bow.
“Writing’s lonely,” my friend told me. “Sometimes we just need to feel appreciated.” Oh, how right she is. Writing is a solitary existence. There isn’t a boss, nodding approval at my gripping plot points from the love seat across the living room. There is no annual employee review, noting my creativity, ingenuity, and ability to persevere page after page in spite of the ever-growing heap of laundry. No one says, “Way to go!” when I stay up an hour past exhaustion to polish the granite on the kitchen counter. But guess what? Tomorrow, I will find the motivation to do it all over again. Why? Because I love to write, because the words, themselves, feel like members of my own family.
But still, it would be nice to hear a “Good job! Keep at it!” during those low moments when I consider the possibility that all my hard work could end up in a drawer one day. Every now and then, I get attention via my critique group or my encouraging, positive agent or an editor who acknowledges something just right about my project. (Okay, so it’s a rejection letter, but still.) Most of the time, though, the compliments are few and far between. Most of the time, it’s only the meek cheerleader in my head, stage-whispering, “Two four six eight, who do we appreciate, you, you, yay, you…”
But now life should be different, because I have my very own applause box! Despite being enchanted by this thoughtful gift, and eager to use it, and despite it needing only a flick of the wrist to open, it’s stayed shut for four weeks. There’s even a thin layer of dust on top of it.
Have I nothing to celebrate, nothing to pat myself on the back about? When I look back in time, I can, in fact, find those glimmering moments of glory worthy of an open box…and yet….I didn’t open it. The moments flittered by, quashed by the unrelenting anxiety of So, What Will You Do Next?
The writing life is lonely, it’s true. Often, my cheerleader is silenced by an even louder critic. “Hey, you!” It shouts. “How come it’s taking you two weeks to finish one lousy chapter?” or “Sure, you wrote five pages, but why is your To-Do list the same today as it was a week ago?”
Writers, our cheerleaders need help. We need to open our Applause Boxes. We need to let them breathe every day, and allow them to congratulate us on those tiny achievements in an otherwise uneventful day. No, I didn’t save anyone’s life, that’s true. Didn’t finish The Great American Novel, either. But it’s all relative, right?
Think I’ll go blow the dust off that box.