If I can. That is the great question for writers, isn't it? Can I really do this?? A book--or a short story or poem--starts with a creative fire sparked deep inside the soul. Sometimes it fizzles out, as so many of my own creative fires have done over the years. The writer is left with ashes from the fire to ponder and even mourn a little. How many fragments of long-extinguished fires lie buried in my momento boxes and computer files? More than I care to count, I am sure, because each one represents the death of one of my creative fires. I can't help but mourn the dying of those flames, because I had such high hopes that I could forge something beautiful and lasting from them. Some of them I know were truly good ideas, and I wonder if I could possibly fan them back to life.
But right now I have this project before me--a children's biography of J.R.R. Tolkien, one of the greatest contemporary authors in the world, as well as a faithful Catholic. This is a fire I cannot allow to go out, because I have made a promise to see it through to the end. This is a road that stretches far ahead, and I truly must follow, period. There is no "if I can" in a contractual assignment.
The challenges of real life, though, are heavy obstacles, and my previous successes do not ensure this one--only boost my confidence a bit. I know I'm not alone in this struggle; every author is in the same quandary. This actually gives me some comfort, because they still often produce such incredible work. Still, the road is already bumpy for me, and I've barely begun. Teaching duties, family responsibilities, personal anxieties, and other distractions have kept me from making a deep plunge into this project thus far, and I am still not finished reading my first biography on Tolkien.
In a way this doesn't matter, because most of my other sources won't be relevant until I've reached certain segments of Tolkien's story. On the other hand, I'm starting to feel a familiar deep, rumbling anxiety that is always my signal that I am procrastinating too long at a task and will pay for it if I don't pick up my pace. Fortunately, I have a second chapter already well in hand, because my sample chapter for Ignatius had to be cut for length. That makes me feel a little better--or would, if it didn't involve reaching out to King Edward School in England for an interview on facts about the school in the early 1900s. But it does, so (gulp) that is the next bump on my path. Being a bit shy and concerned that I might be inadvertently break some rule of British etiquette, I am definitely not looking forward to this. Even so, I must follow the road, wherever it goes and however far in the distance it stretches. There is no "if I can."
It's been a little over a week since I officially began my journey with Tolkien, and I have already run into an obstacle: my own laziness. Since I posted last, I received what I think were the rest of my books for research, and I breathed a small sigh of satisfaction--like I'd reached a goal, even accomplished something. But I hadn't. The line only shifted, like a mirage in a desert, and I realized that I actually had to open the books and start reading. Ugh. So I procrastinated that day and the next and the next and probably for a couple more days after that, comfortable in the knowledge that my deadline is a long way off with many weeks and months filled with empty time. The mirage grew.
Then, a few days ago, the responsible part of myself remembered: I barely made my last deadline. This book will be even harder! What was I doing, waiting even a single day to begin? No, I didn't have time. True, I had classes to prepare, papers to grade, emails to handle, a kid to homeschool, and a household to run--but I also had a book to write. So, finally I pulled out a book from the stack waiting for me. Tolkien: The Authorized Biography, by Humphrey Carpenter. I grabbed the first pen I saw for annotating, and I made myself sit down to read at last.
The road stretches far, far away into the distance. I see mountains and forests ahead that look a little forbidding, and I am not a little nervous about the ordeal I have signed up for. Doing justice to the master of high fantasy's life story will not be easy, even if it is "just" for children. But the road waits for me to follow where it leads, and so I will keep walking onward. And maybe, just maybe, it will even be fun.
Author of Before Austen Comes Aesop: The Children's Great Books and How to Experience Them and Maria von Trapp and Her Musical Family