I believe there are plenty of times during the year when we have the opportunity to start over, start fresh, start again, or simply start. A birthday, the first day of school, the first day of spring or the first day of a new job (or retirement).
The new year is the obvious time and so this column is the pay-it-forward column, where I take the kick-in-the-butt I received and pass it on to you. In a good way, of course; gentle yet firm, emphatic yet encouraging.
Two winters ago, I wandered into Deanne Fitzpatrick’s rug hooking store in downtown Amherst, wanting to absorb some of that inspiring atmosphere but also seeking guidance from an established artist and writer. I told Deanne I was working on a book proposal for a collection of essays but I was stuck on one of my sample essays.
“Stop stalling and just get on with it,” she replied.
And that’s exactly what I needed. Not just the kick-in-the-butt but the accountability; now that Deanne knew what I was doing, she would ask about it the next time I saw her.
A few months later, I submitted the book proposal to a publisher and after six months of back and forth which included submitting a few more sample essays, the publisher said the concept was close but he couldn’t see how to market the book I’d proposed.
Time to be disappointed but also time to decide: Should I keep working on it? Or should I move on to a new book idea?
I wondered what Deanne would have to say about do-overs. Can you pull out the yarn from a piece of burlap and try again? Or is an ugly rug simply a failure to move on from?
“Start again with something fresh,” Deanne told me after I found her at her store working on a rug. “You don’t want to work something to death.”
At the same time, Deanne keeps old mats she’s not happy with to remind her of what she doesn’t want to do.
“That’s not where you want to build your next rug from,” she said. “I learn something from every rug.”
Since the collection of essays I was proposing was inspired by these Field Notes columns and other stories about Cumberland County, I didn’t want to give up on the project but it was clear I needed to start over with something fresh.
As I pondered what went wrong with my original idea, Deanne’s words guided me. Encouraging words from the publisher meant I could re-submit but the next proposal had to be different. I knew what not to build my next proposal on. What did I learn from my first attempt?
1) Don’t try and reinvent the wheel. You only need to ensure your vision is unique.
2) Listen to your instincts. You don’t get stalled on a project if you are excited about working on it.
Those lessons may seem obvious but when your head gets full of advice from others about what you SHOULD be doing and how you should be doing it, it can be hard to hear what your own true creative voice is telling you.
My do-over worked. Field Notes, the book, is coming out next fall.
What idea do you have that deserves a fresh look and a do-over? Make 2016 the year you pay attention to your instincts, find your excitement and believe in your unique vision.
|Deanne Fitzpatrick, in a photo from her Facebook page.|