Thursday, October 23, 2014

Unbrandable

          I've been doing a lot of contemplating lately.  There's been time and opportunity, believe me.  For the past two weeks my heart's been beating too fast and incessantly throbbing in my chest loud enough to get my attention.  Four years ago it was the same story, only back then I thought I was having a heart attack.
          This time, I know better.
          My heart's been speaking loud and clear ever since my birthday last month, but up until now I've been too busy to listen.  In October my life in the garden is winding down.  I'm no longer knitting or teaching children.  So in-between yoga classes, I've spent countless hours on the couch where I sweat out my racing heart and endured the migraines that are often par for the course in the aftermath.  I'm no masochist and I'd rather be working on my novel, but there's something to be said for times when I'm at my lowest point.  When I can do little more than lie as still as possible and wait for healing to come.
          And it always does in ways I least expect.

          During my last bout of tachycardia, I was enduring post traumatic stress syndrome after living through five years of intense life experiences.  We've all been there and it was my turn on the wheel to endure a series of stressful events that culminated in my choice to make some serious changes in my life.  And of course, there were more choices to be made that were completely out of my hands.
          This year has been similar to 2010, albeit the transitions were more subtle and less dramatic.  Since April I've experienced losses in many areas of my life and am not really comfortable floating in the hollow spaces left behind.  Yet through it all I've once again cycled around to the question I always ask when my life is in flux and I'm not sure what to do or where to turn:  "What kind of woman do I want to be now?"
          In the process of discovering the answer, I've read articles on financially successful writers, on what readers crave in an ever-changing culture, on what's popular and how to make myself stand out enough to garner new literary representation.  The word "branding" has come up again and again, not only in terms of writing style, but in business savvy as well. To be slick and have a hook is paramount, and it seems formula fiction is all the rage these days. 
          While I'm reticent to admit I fit into any one category, I'm clear that I'm developing a style that's ever evolving.  When my former agent was pitching my work to publishing houses, Chelsea labeled me as a commercial fiction writer, explaining that my novels would appeal to a wide variety of tastes and interests.  It sounded good to me, but I still scratched my head when she sent my work to a popular romance book publisher.  And then I thanked the gods they rejected me...twice.
          Six months later, Chelsea changed gears and shifted my work into the literary fiction category.  There was some serious interest from a couple of houses, but in the end they all passed.  So last April, after three years of rewriting and editing, of trial and error, of hopeful anticipation followed by rejection, I made the difficult choice to end my contract.  In less than six months, I self-published a memoir and two novels.  Then I returned A Tapestry of Truth to its original premise and changed the ending to Common Threads to more clearly articulate the main character's story arc.
          Over the summer I sketched out plans for a children's book based on the darling fairy garden I created in my front yard.  I honed and edited three yoga books for kids and sifted through my notes for a non-fiction book I'll be writing in 2017 called Growing the Lotus which will illustrate the long and lovely journey I've been taking with my yoga students since 2011.  This fall I've been researching and outlining a novel that is unlike anything I've written before and it's been a daunting process.  But not without its gifts of grace.  
          Last week I was lamenting to my friend that, after twenty years of working toward greater awareness, I thought the process would get easier.
          Tyler shook his head.  "It only gets deeper."
          Which is the cardinal reason why my heart is once again calling for my attention. 

          I've lost count of how many agents I've queried over the past twenty-three years.  How many rejections I've received.  How many times I've cried tears of frustration while watching poorly written and barely edited books quickly climb the bestseller lists.  How many times I've said, "I won't quit until I find my own success."         
          Well...my heart is now guiding me elsewhere. 
          In the back of my mind, I've always known I'm unbrandable.  I can't be the kind of writer who figures out what the public wants and then carves out my niche in the genre.  I can't pretend to like the latest pulp fiction just because it's popular with book clubs and the latest celebrity.  I can't spend any more time being angry or frustrated that I've not been rewarded with a publishing contract after all the time and energy I've spent trying to become a better writer.
          This morning I woke up with the realization that I need to write for myself.  For the stories that want to be born through my imagination.  For the characters who weave their way through the creative process and always reveal inherent lessons that have been slumbering in my subconscious.  Only then will I find the success of having written from the heart of who I am, not a facsimile of what others demand or desire.
          Perhaps all these long years have been about unwinding my own expectations around what I've hoped to achieve as a writer.  As a woman.  As a human being.  In this unbrandable state of being I am embarking on a new journey, one that is more authentic and grounded because it doesn't rely on what I want to receive at the end of each blog, each novel, each book.
          Like anything that grows, I will simply become more of who I am meant to be.  What comes next is unknowable, yet ultimately freeing.  And in that open space, my heart can finally be at peace.