French author Colette is quoted as saying, “What a wonderful life I’ve had! I only wish I’d realized it sooner.” I don’t know how old she was when she said this – I hope it wasn’t a deathbed utterance – but I do know that my own biggest do-over yearning is not so much to do anything I did in my career, or my life, differently, but to have appreciated it more as I did it.
It’s so easy to feel ungrateful to the writing gods. Why didn’t they give me the gifts to write better books, say, an immortal classic or two? Why didn’t they make the world more appreciative of my books? I would give such a good Newbery acceptance speech, I would, I would! But when I have these greedy, grasping thoughts – and few writers escape them – I hear in my head the petulant voice of one of my writer friends who complains all the time about her writing career by moaning, “I’ve published twenty books, and look what it’s gotten me!” Her implied answer: not very much.
I want to say to her (and to myself, when I start to talk that way): Well, it got you the publication of twenty books, and most likely thousands of readers for those twenty books. And more than that: it got you the writing of twenty books. My friend has had a wonderful life as a writer, if only she could realize it.
So have I. And like Colette, I wish I had realized it more deeply and fully along the way. I keep a list now of what I call “touchstone” moments from my writing career, times when I was most thrilled to be living the life of a writer. Almost none of them have to do with fame and fortune. They include:
Writing in the bar of the Omni Netherland Plaza Hotel in Cincinnati while sipping a pomegranate martini while I was away at a conference for my day job.
Writing at the house of a librarian friend who is also a composer of hauntingly beautiful solo piano music. It was early morning, and she was playing softly on her piano as I lay in bed scribbling.
Writing in the tent during a family camping trip, with light from a miner’s headlamp strapped to my forehead.
Writing by the wood-burning stove at the Gold Hill General Store in the Colorado mountains with my writer friend Cat.
Writing while I sat on the Great Wall in China!
If I had my career to do over again, I’d savor and honor these touchstone moments even more, reminding myself over and over again: What a wonderful life you’re having! You’ve been writing for several decades now, and look what it’s getting you!