[Another entry in the on-going blog "Would We Lie To You?: News from the Non-Fiction Career Lab"]
by Lisa Prior
Instead of working on my manuscript, I watched a PBS documentary from the couch in my living room with my fifteen year old son.
I learned that every year off the shores of Alaska, schools of salmon journey thousands of perilous miles to return to their birth waters to spawn. They breach in silver flashes upon the waves as they follow the scent of fresh water molecules through briny seas. Once they reach the edge where ocean meets river, they battle freshwater currents, and climb stairs of sheer rock. They evade hungry gulls, fox and bears. Inevitably, some will take wrong turns, track the scent to dead-end marshes, and strand themselves along disappointing pathways.
Having joined Grub Street’s Non Fiction Career Lab last fall with a daunting goal – to write a book with a narrative arc that spans the American industrial era – a twinge of empathy tugged at my gut for those gasping fish.
You see, I have reached a point in my own journey where I feel stranded like a Sockeye.
It took some pluck to begin this pursuit. Beyond mid-career as a business professional, I am a newer student to creative non-fiction. More than that, I am accustomed to feeling competent in my work, where I trace an idea to its logical conclusion and often produce solutions that my corporate clients describe as creative. Here, my ideas feel stupid, my writing lame. I have trouble finishing sentences, let alone paragraphs or pages or chapters. In class on cold Wednesday nights, I sit in the hard chair, the thrum of voices from the classroom next door floating over those of my classmates nearby.
I listen as my peers read their beautiful words and touching prose aloud. I am writing about rubber, the industrial era, and the relationship between business and society. These topics are not inherently poetic, scintillating or sexy. Alone with my manuscript, ideas lock arms in my brain and refuse to march onto the page single file. Phase I of this three-phase program focused on marketplace, craft and pitches. My goal for Phase II is to parse topics and draft five essays that are based upon streams of thought broken off from larger ideas of the book. I worry that each will lead to a dead-end.
I need to shore up courage and continue.
My lack of persistence is partly responsible for being off-course: I have not yet cultivated disciplined writing habits. My classmates are drafting, revising and submitting. One Grub friend tells me that her “butt is in that same seat” every day at the same time, with the same rituals, focused on the same intention – to continue her memoir, to produce smaller pieces, to write her damn book. She is retired. I have a busy consulting practice, two kids to put through college, and a morning exercise routine that replaces sunrise writing sessions but keeps me on the happier side of that line between daylight and seasonal sadness. I wonder, sometimes, if I have the fortitude to go on.
But then, just as I’m thinking those thoughts, a sentence fragment comes to me. I reach for the yellow pad and begin scratching away in purple ink with my fine-point, calligraphy pen.
Something will keep me going, even if it is only my need to bring new ideas into the world or the desire, like those poor Sockeye salmon, to create something worthwhile.
Lisa Prior is the founder of Prior Consulting LLC, a Boston-based firm founded in 2000 that specializes in helping leaders adapt, change and thrive in the globalized business environment. She’s currently working on a book entitled Rubber Avenue: The Untold Story of a Company Family, a Factory Town, and Corporate America’s Broken Promise. Visit her website at www.priorconsulting.com.