Much as I love “The Wizard of Oz,” there was something about those ruby slippers that always stuck in my craw.
Poor Dorothy just wanted to go home again, but Glinda the Good pointed her toward the Emerald City instead. She had to face down flying monkeys, drugged poppies, a vindictive witch and a charlatan wizard. And then, once Dorothy finally arrived on the other side of all that, Glinda told her she could’ve gone home any time.
“You’ve always had the power, my dear,” said Glinda, her voice dripping with sugar. “You just had to learn it for yourself.”
I’ve seen that movie dozens of times in my life and got annoyed by that “just click your heels” line every time. It wasn’t until recently, though, that it finally made sense. Seemed less cruel.
Allow me to digress. I promise we won’t leave Dorothy stranded for long.
Back when I was in second grade, I wrote my first book. Its handwritten pages were bound between cardboard covers and held together with string. My teacher lavished praise on my project. She remarked on the clever twist ending, the penmanship, the illustrations. She was so genuinely enthusiastic (8-year-old me believed) that I announced to all who would listen that I’d found my calling. Miss Miles planted the writing seed so deeply nothing else could take root.
Yet the closest I ever came to a real writing job was to work as a secretary at a newspaper. Never a journalist. These columns resulted from being in the right place at the right time — and then hanging on tight.
Over the years, I tackled a variety of other writing projects, but carried only the short stories through to completion. The novels I began — plus a trio of nonfictions — languished on the back burner.
Getting the ideas wasn’t a problem. If anything, there were too many. My issue was time.
I couldn’t seem to find it.
Two years ago, after I moved, I stopped writing all but my columns. I was simply too busy, and work left me drained. I could feel the creative side of me gasping as it began to wither and die.
One of my closest friends, Anna James, is also a writer. Much like me, Anna would dive into her writing for a while and then come up for air. While up, she would often linger, like me. We’ve found that once the momentum stops, excitement over an idea soon fades. Imaginations that had been sparking with characters and scenarios revert to chore lists and meal planning and budgets.
It’s easy to get distracted by life, to let others fill your calendar so completely there’s no space left to create. There’s something about writing that seems selfish, going off all alone with your laptop. Unless you’re regularly publishing or under contract or have a serious lead on a fee, it’s hard not to feel a bit foolish; hard not to wonder if others view you as tilting at windmills. Time spent writing can appear an indulgence, rather than an investment.
In August, Anna and I arrived at the same place at the same time, both ready to head back down that yellow brick road with our writing. Except this time, Dorothy wasn’t starting alone.
This time, we’ve sort of tethered ourselves to each other in a way that is working.
Each weekday morning, I get up at 4:30 and write until 6. As soon as I’m finished, I send Anna a text, and then it’s her turn to get up and write. If I don’t send the text, she gets to sleep in, so there’s this burden on me that I need.
She knows if she takes a day off or quits, chances are I will, too. Neither wants to be responsible for the other one stopping. We won’t do it for ourselves but will for each other. I believe in her writing; she, in mine.
That this strategy is working isn’t a tremendous surprise, but what was unexpected is how much happier I’ve become. How different I’ve felt. My imagination is sparking like it hasn’t in years. Even my dreams, which had become completely mundane, are now quirky and wildly entertaining again. I’m more alive. More me. Anna says she’s been feeling the same.
We’re finally doing what I strongly suspect we were created to do.
I told Anna recently that I see her writing as her winning lottery ticket, one she’s been holding for years.
And that’s when what Glinda told Dorothy stopped ticking me off.
I realized she was right.
We’ve had the power to get here all along. We just had to learn it for ourselves.