Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Wretched Journey

by Julie Coulter Bellon

I sat in Relief Society two weeks ago and they announced a mother/daughter hike for the new virtue value. Since my baby’s birth I haven’t done a lot of hiking, but the lady who announced it said it was an easy to medium hike and was only 5/8th of a mile. I thought to myself, I could do that, and it would be a fun thing to do with my daughter.

We awoke early on the Saturday morning of the hike (even though it had been a difficult night with the baby) and made it to the mouth of the canyon with the hundreds of other mothers and daughters from our stake. The lady at the front was yelling instructions, which were difficult to hear, but one sentence floated over the air to my stunned ears. “We’re going all the way to the top!”

My mind refused to process what she said because I’d been told it was a 5/8th of a mile hike and if we were going to the top of the mountains behind my house, well, that was a lot more than 5/8ths of a mile. But I followed the crowd and started up the mountain. And that’s when I realized the power of perception. What was an easy to medium hike for some people, was a difficult hike for me. There didn’t seem to be a trail, it was mostly just loose rocks that we were scrambling up, and the steepness of the grade made it all the more difficult to climb. After about a half a mile, my legs were in deep protest. I was huffing and puffing more than the big bad wolf and could have blown down a large house, I’m sure. My daughter was beside me and I was determined to have fun on this hike with her, but as I looked uphill, and saw that it only got steeper and harder, I knew I couldn’t do it. I tried to force my burning legs and lungs into submission, to keep going on the “trail,” but it was no use. I was going to have to turn back.

I didn’t want to turn back. I wanted to stay there with my daughter. And since we were near the front of the hikers, if I went back, I would have to face the hundreds of people in my stake who were still coming up while I was going down. I felt like a total failure. Mommyfail! I told my daughter how sorry I was, left her with her friends and young women leaders, and started back down the mountain.

As I passed ward and stake members, I got a lot of looks and a few comments. “Done already?” (wink wink) “Are you okay?” “Come on, I’m twice your age and I’m still going.” I just smiled weakly and tried to keep my footing because going down was easily as hard as going up on those loose rocks. I finally made it to the bottom, away from the rocks and all the people, and I let the tears come. I whipped myself with recriminations. Why would I think I could do that hike? And I felt humiliated by having to come down and pass the entire stake on the way, so everyone knew that I couldn’t do it.

I think the writing journey can be likened to my hiking experience. For some, the journey is an easy thing, and they excitedly tell you that anyone can write and be published. Yet, when you start on your journey, you find it difficult and full of loose rocks that discourage you and at every turn seem to try and trip you up and make you fall. You want to be there on this journey, you really want to do it, but perhaps you need more preparation to get yourself properly ready for what’s before you. Maybe you have to start over or step back a ways, and admitting this to yourself can be just as difficult as starting the journey in the first place.

The hardest thing for me after I left my daughter was the comments of others as I came down. But writers who are on a journey to be published have to endure all sorts of comments and are counseled to get a thick skin. For me, I have a hard time with criticism. I will remember the one bad review I got and easily forget the ten good reviews. I came home from that hike feeling like a loser and just then, my dad called. I told him what had happened and he was quiet for a moment, then he said, “Julie, let me get this straight. You are the mother of seven children, which is busy and a huge responsibility since one of them is a small baby. You are in the middle of rush time grading and teaching at BYU, and finishing edits on a book, so pretty much, you're exhausted. And just for fun, on your Saturday, you’re climbing up a mountain.” I said yes and he chuckled. “You must be a Coulter,” he said. “We think we can do everything and anything and it’s such a shock when we find out that we can’t.”

His words did make me feel better, but I resolved not to let that hike be my last memory of hiking. I’m going to prepare better and do it again. It might not be in the near future, but I know I will do it. And I think any writer worth their salt would have to think in those same sort of terms. If you are rejected, let yourself feel the pain and/or sadness, then try again. The wretched journey can become a joyous one if you don’t give up. I truly believe that. You may have to endure the feelings of failure, the comments of others or maybe your own inner comments that say you can’t do it, and you’re a failure, but only you know the strength within, and can listen to the part of you that says, “I’m not going to let that rejection be my last memory on my publishing journey. I’m going to prepare better and try again. It might not be in the near future, but I know I will do it. I will get to the top of that mountain.”

And then make that statement true. Try again. Do it. It’s not going to be easy, but people who don’t give up get published, and there are those who will encourage you along the way. Listen to them, build up your skills, then turn the wretched journey into a memorable journey, one that will bring you closer to your writing goals.


At 5/14/2009 12:56 PM, Blogger LexiconLuvr said...

Julie, this post is so beautiful. Not just because it's inspiring when it comes to writing. Thank you for helping me to be able to face myself, not the unbelieving crowd, and keep trying. Someday, when I reach that mountaintop, I'll thank you properly.

At 5/14/2009 1:23 PM, Blogger Sandra said...

Oh Julie, did they not tell you the moms were only going part way? And at least you attempted it, I didn't even do that.

At 5/14/2009 1:41 PM, Blogger Julie Coulter Bellon said...

Lexiconluvr, thank you, you are wonderful, and I know you will reach that mountaintop just because of the kind of person you are.

Sandra, that hike ended up being six hours long and the "part way" for the moms was a lot farther than I'd been led to believe. Oh well, it was a lesson I had to learn the hard way I suppose and, if I'm looking on the bright side, as you said, I did attempt it, even though it didn't turn out as I had hoped. (Thanks for that comment!)

At 5/14/2009 2:27 PM, Anonymous Chas Hathaway said...

I don't play basketball much, but I remember from my younger days making sure that after a skirmish, I would always make sure my last shot went in the basket. The trouble is, getting it in the basket always made me want to keep playing!

Maybe that's what propels the writer: can't stop with a rejection letter, but the acceptance letter just eggs us on!

- Chas

At 5/14/2009 9:17 PM, Blogger Carolyn V. said...

Excellent post! I'm going to print it off and tape it to my forehead. (okay, my mirror will have to do, but still).

I just starting reading your blog and didn't realize you taught at BYU. Can I ask what you teach? (I'm a student there...I mean, I'm an older student there. I hope to be done someday). =)

At 5/14/2009 11:19 PM, Blogger Kimberly said...

This post struck such a chord for me. I feel like so many others are climbing on smoothly trailed paths, while my own personal path is nothing but rocks and scree. It doesn't come easily, and that frustrates me, but I want to get to the top of that mountain. If for no other reason than for the view of the road I climbed up.

Thanks for this. I needed a perspective shift.

At 5/14/2009 11:53 PM, Blogger Julie Coulter Bellon said...

thank you so much for coming on the hike with me. you are the best! it was the hardest thing i have ever done! we will go again soon.
love ya

At 5/15/2009 8:21 PM, Blogger jodi said...

You are amazing. I admire you I love your blog even though I am not an aspiring writer.

At 5/16/2009 1:14 PM, Blogger Julie Coulter Bellon said...

Jodi, thank you. I happen to think you are pretty amazing as well.

Sweetie, we will go again soon. Love you!

Kimberly, you are definitely going to make it with that attitude and the view will be spectacular!

Carolyn, imagining my blog on your forehead made me chuckle. I teach Journalism for BYU. What are you going into?

Chas, you are totally right, acceptance letters always egg me on! :)

Thanks for the comments everyone. You are all very kind.

At 5/19/2009 10:55 AM, Blogger Christine Thackeray said...

Wow, Julie,

What a great post. I needed it as I'm struggling up a long mountain right now and need to get off this next manuscript before the kids finish school.



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