The Road Not Taken
The conversation with Ms. Crisp got filed in a box labeled “to do” and shoved into the far recesses of my mind when I left college the next year…that college and subsequently several others.Floundering in waves of indecision, insecurities, and my inalienable right to be an underachiever, I eventually became an accountant, a career which most certainly would provide financial security. That was important. I would never be a starving writer for the sake of the freedom to put onto paper whatever creative tidbits my mind manufactured. Freedom was also important; in fact, it ran neck and neck with security, though often very much oppose to each other. It’s fine to talk about freedom until one day you find yourself searching under a park bench for something the pigeons may have missed.
So how did I get here? I have no idea. Life just happened. We make decisions day after day with little awareness of potential consequences and triumphs. Sometimes those consequences and triumphs have little effect on our lives, and other times they make all the difference. (Just ask Robert Frost.)
In my twenties, I knew there was plenty of time to write…someday. After all, who cared what a twenty-something had to say? I had to gain maturity…then I’d write…when my career was set…when I was old…like maybe forty or forty-five. And in the meantime, I would not read any fiction, especially not Romance because that was probably what I’d write, and I couldn’t have my creative thoughts tainted. I definitely had to have my own voice. (That was only a concept to me; I had no conscious knowledge of the phrase, having your own voice.)
I was such a bright child back then; it’s amazing I didn’t become President.
As time passed in my accounting world, I used every deadline imaginable to start writing: as soon as I get this promotion, as soon as I finish my MBA, as soon as I get a divorce. Yup, my reasons for putting off writing became fairly ludicrous.
I did however pick up at the library a rather large book on creative writing. (This was pre-internet, which means pre-just-about-everything, except the microwave.) Simply deciding to pick up that book took me down a defined path. The book was filled with advice from various authors, publishers, and agents, one of whom said something that smacked me in the face. “If you don’t read, you’ll never write.”
Unh-oh, I didn’t know where I had gotten off the path to reading fiction, but I had to find it in a hurry. After spending months reading a sampling of every romance sub-genre until the wee hours of the morning, I went back to reading about the publishing industry. What were the odds of getting published? What was the path? What does the word genre mean?
Since I hadn’t put even one story down on paper, this was definitely putting the cart before the horse, but I was determined not to go down the wrong path again. My procrastination, the irrelevant deadlines I’d set for myself, came to an end when I read one writer’s insight into her own writing.
She told a story of never being able to find quiet time to write-kids, husband and all that. She finally planned a solo getaway for one full week at their summer cabin. Day after day she gazed out into the pristine wilderness, absorbed the quiet, and paced her empty cabin. With no obligations, no demands, no interruptions, she willed her creative mind to come to life. But nothing. Her imagination seemed to lay dormant. She finally realized that she couldn’t create without life happening around her, so she packed up and went back to the chaos of her life.
So according to that author, you don’t just sit down and write nonstop. That was something I had feared because I knew how powerful my urge to write was and how long I’d kept it at bay. I had started writing stories in my head when I was about six. I’d take characters I’d seen on television and spin my own stories for them. We’ve probably all done that, right?
I had been sure once the flood gates opened, everything else around me would become irrelevant. I would be impervious to the passage of time. A neighbor might stop by and find me living in a slovenly state, with laundry and dishes piled up, the back door hanging on a hinge, a carton of milk, which could stand on its own, in the frig, and next to my laptop a roll of salami which the cats are fighting me over.
And while no neighbor has ever found me in such a state, I have learned to set my stove timer when I write, because when I slip into fantasy land there’s no telling how long I’ll be there.
That author was right; the world around you stimulates thinking and creativity. It simply isn’t all or nothing when it comes to inspiration, and I realized there wasn’t a reason in the world not to start putting my daydreaming threads onto paper.
I may not remember every turn or indicator that sent me down this path but those were two of the more helpful road signs. It probably doesn’t matter very much how I got here as long as I finally made it. I disregarded the advice of Miss Crisp, and I’ll never know what might have happened if I’d taken the road she’d suggested: Journalism or an English major. But I wouldn’t mind an association with Ms. Crisp these days since I later discovered she was a retired literary critic.
However, she was wrong about one thing. I never did learn how to type.
One of my favorites:
The Road Not Taken
By Robert Frost
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood.
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, Long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way.
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.