During my keynote at last weekend’s Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ Colorado Gold Conference, I told the story of one of my special needs seahorses…little Weeble.
Weeble came to me with an infection. By the odds, he shouldn’t have survived. He spent two weeks in a curled, miserable state on the bottom of the hospital tank. He lost the last half-inch of his tail (the part a seahorse uses like a hand to grip the things to which it hitches). He couldn’t swim upright for several weeks, and I had already accepted the inevitable…but this little seahorse didn’t get that memo.
My son came home from college one Friday evening and asked for an update. When I told him the seahorse was still alive, he asked what I planned to name it. I told him I wasn’t naming him…I didn’t want to get attached, and then be even sadder when he died. My son (at times, wise beyond his years) asked me if that was really fair.
“He’s fought so hard,” he said, “and he’s so small. If he dies, and his life is nothing but this struggle, is it fair that he never even got to have a name?”
The following morning, my son woke up and asked “How’s Weeble doing this morning?”
“You named it…Weeble?” I asked.
He smiled. “Yep. Because he wobbles, but he won’t fall down.”
Miraculous as it may seem, the minute Weeble received his name he started to recover. He grew stronger. His tail healed, and though he’ll never re-grow the part most seahorses use to hitch to objects, he figured out how to make his stump of a tail approximate a solid hitch. Two weeks later, he joined the reef, and the other seahorses came around him, welcoming him to the herd.
He’s now a healthy, happy seahorse, “one of the gang”–and has no idea he’s different from the others in any way.
Wherein lies a lesson (actually, many, but only one I’m going to highlight here today):
When I discovered my writing herd at Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, my dreams of a writing career were lying, curled and broken-tailed, on the bottom of my own proverbial tank. I’d worked and written for over a decade, churning out four unpublished manuscripts and garnering a drawerful of rejections. Even so, I refused to give up. I refused to surrender my calling and my dream.
My RMFW herd came around me, just like the other seahorses did with Weeble. They made me feel accepted, and helped me forget my broken tail. In their company, I found the strength to grow and persevere…and one year later, my very next manuscript got me an agent. That same manuscript–now Claws of the Cat—became my first published novel.
Wherever you are in your writing career, or in whatever dream you’re pursuing, you’re going to have days when you feel like a little seahorse lying on the bottom of a hospital tank, with no strength and no hope left within you. There will be days when it looks like your dream is going to die. There will be times when all the strength that’s in you isn’t enough to wiggle upright, and you must depend on the help of friends to pull you through.
An artist’s life is solitary, in so many ways. And yet, we need to find and bond with others in our herd–our tribe. Companionship and camaraderie, even once a year, can help us find the strength we need to carry on and, finally, succeed.
If you haven’t found your tribe, I hope that you’ll keep looking. If you write, consider giving Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers a chance. Or, if they’re too far away, find others closer to your home.
Success in writing, or any art, requires enormous strength, resilience, and determination. But it also helps to have a herd of friends you can rely on when times get dark and your own strength fails. I’m glad, and blessed, to have found RMFW when I did, and that my friendships grow in strength and number with each passing year. I hope you’re similarly fortunate, and that you find a herd to come around you and support you, too.
Have you got an artistic herd to support you? I hope you’ll share your story in the comments!