On Value and Advance Payment

Confession: Big writing jobs scare the living daylights out of me.

But you’re a professional writing major! I hear you say. You shouldn’t be afraid of writing–you should LOVE big writing jobs!

More Typewriter
“You post pictures of typewriters,” you say. “You should not fear writing.” But oh, the secrets typewriter photos can hide…

Seems like, huh? But I’m petrified. And yesterday, I smiled and nodded and kept my hands from shaking while I accepted two flashdrives and a sheet of paper detailing the biggest job I’ve ever received.

And that started me asking some questions. See, I’ve done plenty “real” writing jobs. Articles for writing periodicals, devotionals for a kids’ book–pieces I’ve signed contracts for. (Which is another terror we can talk about later; contracts are scary!) But this piece feels different. Bigger. More important.

Why?

Probably two reasons: I received an advance for it, and it’s longer than three pages.

Don’t laugh, because I’m dead serious. Just holding that advance payment in my hand started a series of shudders down my spine, because, Oh heavens these people are paying me and they haven’t even seen my work and what if I ruin this and what if I miss my deadline and what if I spend the money and then they demand it back and I don’t have it and I ruin my career forever and…

You get the picture. And see, I’m not usually terrified of writing jobs. (Okay, if they include interviews, I am. Interviews are scarier than contracts.) Usually, I’m only terrified of my own writing, because there’s the possibility of my spending years on it and then finding that no publisher wants it. At least when I’m handed a writing job, I know that someone wants the material.

But this is a Very Big Job, I remind myself. A Very Important Job.

And that’s when I realised: I’m devaluing.

See, when people say, “What do you write?” I’ve come up with an answer, finally: “I want to affirm the value of the individual.” An abstract, lofty concept, but one that I see more and more in my writing. And here I am, devaluing readers subconsciously by ranking my writing as “important” or “not so important” or (heaven forbid, but it happens) “Meh. I can whip this out in half an hour the night it’s due.”

Writing advice always includes one point: Know your reader.

And if I write for my reader, calling one piece more important than another really comes down to placing value on my readers. “This is important. These readers deserve my best–I hope my best is good enough for these important readers!” or “These readers don’t matter much; this piece isn’t that important. These readers will be satisfied with mediocre work.” Or (heaven forbid, but it happens) “These readers couldn’t matter less to me. I’ll pop this out and maybe proofread, but I doubt they’ll even care about that, because they are not important readers.”

….wow. What an arrogant perspective! How dare I class one reader lower than another? Don’t they all deserve my best? Don’t my blog readers deserve the effort I put into my highest-paying  commissions? Don’t kids reading devotionals deserve the same care and attention I pay to literary magazine subscribers?

Child
And really, how could childen not be important? Look at that face!

I thought that advance-payment cheque represented my greatest fear this week, but I was wrong. Advance payment for a big job is terrifying, but recognising my own nature is worse.

Today, I thought I feared failure, but I don’t–I fear my own arrogance.

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Losing Diamonds

I lost my diamond somewhere in the crowded moments between stumbling to the barn in the stormy dawn and shuffling into rehearsal in the crystal cold afternoon.

It fell from my ring, gone before I ever noticed.

diamond

The ring is a narrow, graceful band of gold, delicately curved, unashamedly pretty in a way most girls today are afraid to be, set with tiny leaves of white gold, all curled around a chip of diamond. Now they curl around a blank darkness where minuscule prongs of gold reach upward toward nothing.

Their sharp bite first alerted me to the diamond’s disappearance. They scratched my bare skin just deep enough to hurt, and when I glanced down, the forlorn hole where the diamond should have been stared back up at me, accusing, like a puppy who hasn’t been fondled in a few hours. I experimentally put my fingernail into the tiny crevasse between the hungry little prongs, and then, a little horrified at the cold touch of the now-useless twists of gold, I pulled my finger away and looked somewhere else, pretending I couldn’t sense the dark cavity beside me.

My father gave me that ring one night as we sat in a restaurant booth, making slightly stilted conversation over steaming spinach dip–slightly stilted because we hadn’t talked in too long, because authenticity always carries that odd stiffness, like your neck when you wake up chilly. I don’t remember his explanation for the beautiful gift he handed me, but I think the feeling I’ve had ever since, that slight warmth in my chest and catch in my throat when I finger the ring these years later–I think I still capture the essence of what he wanted for me. There’s something to it, knowing that my father gave it to me, that I’m loved, valued–that no matter what I or anyone else feel about me, my worth is not in what I do or say or think–something of all that seems caught in the golden swirl of the ring’s filigree, in the minute glint of light in the diamond.

My diamond is gone–so many other things, missing before I knew it, valuable in a way I can’t define.

Like that crazy sense of optimism I had as a kid– the certainty that life would always somehow right itself, like those inflatable punching bags that bounce upright when you knock them over. That crazy optimism somehow disappeared into a vague certainty that I’ll eventually manage to fail colossally and live in my parents’ basement with a lot of unfinished first drafts and a secret case of clinical depression. It disappeared somewhere between the empty bank accounts and full sermons about trying harder, smiling bigger. I noticed it was gone one day when pessimism scratched just deep enough to hurt, that whisper that really, in the end, it’s all futile, and life isn’t a faerie tale, and probably Cinderella was miserable after “the end” anyway.

Like that hope in rightness– that right answers existed, that we could ever fix the world instead of damaging it further. It dropped away somewhere between the depressing headlines and the ubiquitous, petty infighting that stripped away my hope in people and change. I noticed it was gone when fear scratched at me, promising hopelessness and loss.

Somehow optimism and hope disappeared, and I didn’t know it until flat pessimism and cynicism cut at my frail surface, just deep enough to sting.

sidewalk crack

Funny to think, isn’t it, that my diamond’s probably gone forever. Somewhere, nestled in the warm, soiled bedding at the barn or wedged into a deep crack in the sidewalk- somewhere that little chip still glimmers, catching the light, keeping on being itself whether it’s set in gold or rendered anonymous by the earth.

 

And you know, somehow, even without those things I’ve lost, with fear scraping at me, with cynicism and pessimism staring up with hollow eyes like the diamondless cavity of my ring–still, somehow, I’m me, and still, somehow, that graceful curve of gold is shamelessly pretty; and still somehow, in the subtle glimmers of the worked golden leaves, something whispers just under the surface: “Someone loves you. No matter what you lose…you have value.”