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August 2, 2009

Sharen Ford“Hope is the thing with feathers

That perches in the soul,

And sings the tune without the words,

And never stops at all.”

                                                                                                    ~ Emily Dickinson

In a recent blog post, literary agent, Nathan Bransford, ( posed a question that really got my attention:  How Do You Deal With the “Am-I-Crazies?”  What Nathan wanted to know was how writers get themselves through those inevitable periods of soul-searching, the ones that come both while they are writing and when the rejections start to flow in.  He was referring to those low points when writers come face to face with the fact that we are doing something that makes us feel frustrated, inadequate and just plain bad about ourselves and, consequently, we begin to doubt our sanity. 

 There have been many times on the long, slow, far from certain road to publication when I’ve asked myself “Am I crazy?” but, until Nathan made me think about it, I’d never really analyzed what it is that gets me through self-doubt and enables me to keep on typing one word after another.

 In the Comments section of Nathan’s blog, writers confessed to using everything from denial to distraction to M&Ms and single malt Scotch to get themselves over the “Am I crazy?” hurdle.  In my case, the answer lies in that simplest and, at the same time, most mysterious of human capabilities: hope.  Thinking about what it is that keeps me keeping on, I realized that, even after those nights when I have gone to bed in despair, convinced I will never write anything but clichéd, hackneyed prose, amazingly I always wake the next morning to the awareness of Emily Dickinson’s little bird, singing softly in my imagination’s ear.  I cannot explain why this happens, but it always, always does … with every new dawn, I am blessed with the phenomenon of hope.  Albert Camus must have experienced a similar wonder when he wrote: “In the midst of winter, I found there was within me, an invincible summer”.  As for me, heeding hope’s siren song, I get up and set myself to proving, yet one more time, that I am not insane.

Now, I realize many people might regard my reliance on irrational hope as proof that I really am crazy.  I find myself at a loss to explain what makes hope such a persistent part of my nature, even in the face of three rejections in one day, or the recognition that I have not fulfilled my own expectations for my writing.  Perhaps there is a gene for hope.  My twice-widowed mother has remained eternally optimistic despite losing one son in a car crash and another to mental illness of the devastatingly genuine kind.

 Whatever the reason for its existence, I do know that hope’s nesting place lies deep within me.  I like to imagine I came into this world carrying its egg in my soul.  The moment I was old enough to recognize a challenge that might lead to disappointment or defeat, that little bird was hatched. 

 I’m also aware that my hope could not continue to exist without the nourishment it receives from the occasional words of praise from readers of my work. The most delectable of these come, of course, from my fellow writers.  “Don’t give up,” they say, “keep on writing.”  So, armed with their encouragement and with the faintest hint of bird song in my heart, I return again to the blank computer screen, reminding myself as I do of this advice from Rita Mae Brown:  “Never hope more than you work.”



6 Comments leave one →
  1. Rob Mayette permalink
    August 2, 2009 11:03 PM

    Sharen – I absolutely loved this, and it came at such a good time for me. I also get visits from that early morning bird, and those are the moments when despair fades back into opportunity. Thank you for posting this.

    • Sharen Ford permalink*
      August 2, 2009 11:22 PM

      Hi Rob – A comment like that helps me to believe I’m NOT crazy. Thanks so much for stopping by.

  2. August 3, 2009 12:11 AM

    Beautiful post, Sharen! I think so many people give up even before they *know* they’ve given up. They might still be writing or talking about writing, but the little bird has flown away. I think it’s *always* right to tend to the little bird and let its song spur you onward. (And the beauty of your post, btw, demonstrates that you are not all “crazy” to keep putting those words on paper.)

  3. August 3, 2009 1:32 PM


    This is so wonderful!
    I lived for several years around people who were too cool to hope. They were quick to put down anyone who tried a thing, or who tried and failed, the way we must, as writers. I used to look at them and think: why aren’t they doing anything productive? And of course, the answer followed. They thought trying things was stupid. (They were afraid of failure.) I knew they thought what I was doing was dumb. I knew they laughed at me behind my back every day I sat down to work.

    To me, these were the saddest people on Earth. They had the world at their fingertips, and were too cool to hope or dream or try. If ever I feel hopeless, I need only think of them to get up again.

  4. August 3, 2009 2:39 PM

    Sharen, I read this just when I most needed it! It’s beautifully written and really proves why you should keep on writing.

  5. joy finnell king permalink
    August 8, 2009 1:53 AM

    As your bird of hope keeps flying, so do the A-4 sized papers of your novel as I dare to read on the beach. You have no idea of how they soar through the air with the hair’s breath of wind. Also, the quiet sanctuary of my balcony… It is wonderful & fun to put the pages back together & truly enjoy “capturing” your characters.

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