Once Upon a Label

Once upon a time, in the Land of Deep Pragmatism, a girl-child was born. She was a sickly thing, a loner, and books her sacred companions. It probably won’t surprise you that a day arrived when our heroine decided to write a novel herself.

“Here, have my quill,” said one teacher. “Of course you’ll create,” said another. “Let me drive you to your writing course,” said a parent. And with that kind of encouragement, our young writer (let’s call her YW) sank into a dizzying apprenticeship.

This mostly consisted of scowling at lined pages while YW’s youthful companions played outdoors. On rare occasions — mystical occasions — she would reach a level of accomplishment with words that made it all worthwhile. Every single, fraught syllable.

But you will recall our heroine’s setting. (Ah,  yes, we all knew the day of reckoning would arrive.) It happened in a basement bedroom, when YW was seventeen and needed to choose her life’s path. Translation: a way to pay for the iced tea of which she’d grown fond, and the bookshelves that groaned with her treasures.

“So I’ll write for my money,” said  YW. “Not so fast,” said a well-intentioned parent. In the resulting moments of candour, even as the two remained close, a first label was born: Not Good Enough.

Fast forward more than twenty years. Our YW is not so Y now. (In fact she might be legitimately called M-A’dW, though for the sake of the story, we won’t change her name.) Her skin fights with gravity, a laptop’s now her tool of trade, but once more she writes.

Again, she knows moments of sheer joy amidst many of hardship. She studies, she scribbles, she lets her housekeeping go.* After two incomplete manuscripts, she realizes she’s missing something essential: a master.

Armed only with hope, she sets off on a journey to find one. Courtesy of the Internet, she finds many.

She also finds another label – delivered with a sweet smile, good intentions, and the laser-guided precision of a jaded author. YW tries to dodge it — because who in their right mind wants to be affixed with the label Non-Finisher? Alas, too many hours of sitting have made her slow. 

The label hits. It sticks. It dissolves with a burning sensation in her flesh. Though it’s no longer visible to the naked eye, at some level, YW knows she is changed. We know she is changed. That label is now part of her molecular substrate.

But YW is resilient. That “detour” taken between writing years leant steel to her spine. After all, it’s hard to be covered in vomit, feces, blood and meconium, and not take away some lessons in perspective and tenacity.

And don’t forget her merry band of side kicks! Oh, I’m sorry. Did I forget to mention them? In part, that’s because there have been many, each standing on the shoulders of their predecessors. There were the Cherries, and the Cherry Tarts, and the AW peeps, and her critique partners…and now, most surprisingly, her Blog Readership.

Yes, folks, you guessed it: Just this week, in what turned out to be the climactic moment of this parable, you very people helped YW meet her antagonist. It was gruesome, wasn’t it? A fearsome sight involving tangled limbs, a demon-child with sticky hands, and worst of all, ultra-violet light.

Nope, that’s not a typo for those of you coming late to the story. For at that heart-stopping moment, just when it seemed our heroine might push through her biggest obstacle, the antagonist pulled out a magic wand. (The kind employed  in nightclubs to reveal admission stamps.)

Oh-ho! You hadn’t anticipated that, had you?

Neither had YW. And for a long, perilous moment, her Non-Finisher label highlighted in fluorescent yellow, she flagged.

Happily, our heroine had a few weapons up her own sleeve, and in the end, that scene went down-down-doooooowwwn. (Until the miraculous revival required in book two of the series, natch.)

And now we’re in the denouement. We’ve done our back-slapping and told our battle stories, even had time for a victory toast. All that remains is for you to answer a few questions, if you feel comfortable: 

1. Have you absorbed any labels that you permit to control your present-day writing behaviour? Or have you seen others so afflicted. If yes, what are the labels that stuck? (Feel free to include the positive ones. Although they may make for less drama, they are no less important?)

2. Who are the label-makers in your life that you may need to avoid? (Please be discrete enough you won’t hurt anybody’s feelings.)

3. Who are the sidekicks in your life who carry the label-removing soap in their Kicking-Ass Utility Belt?

*Not really a form of sacrifice, but it resolves the rule of three.

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13 thoughts on “Once Upon a Label

  1. I for one am really glad YW followed her dream to become a writer. The world is a richer place for her blog, and the rest of the world will be grateful when her books come out.

    I’ve learned labels don’t apply to people effectively, because everyone grows and changes, and many times the labels simply aren’t true. How about being labelled a satanist because you like heavy metal music, and read books on the paranormal in your hometown? And you’re pretty much the only one in a population of 2000. That one used to bother me, until I travelled, and my world got bigger. Then I realized how small their world was. 🙂

  2. Does this mean – ? Can it be – ? Are you – ? *glee*

    I am ashamed to say that last year I didn’t finish a thing and the less I finished and moved on the more I panicked that I was becoming a non-finisher, and yes, that label scared me spitless. I had completed, at that point, five? first drafts. I knew I could, and yet the fear that I had ‘lost’ something ate at me. So I said bugger it all and just DID the thing and finished. And now not only do I know I can, I know the only reason I won’t is if I don’t let myself do what I ought.

    I hope this isn’t horn tooting, but I’ve always had a quiet resolve of sorts that yes, I am more than good enough, that it is only a matter of time and effort, and I will succeed. I don’t know when or where I picked up this ego, but I’m glad I did because sometimes it’s the only assurance I’ve got, and the thing I cling to.

    i am learning to revise, and I know it’s my last hurdle.

    I know this isn’t talking about labels, but I don’t really deal in labels. I’m too abstract most of the time.

  3. I had some negative labels growing up. Ugly, silver teeth, things like that.

    I remember a college professor referring to my poetry as nit-picking rhyme, something like that.

    All of those labels hurt.

    I think I’ve been a non-finisher, too, but I’m working on changing that.

  4. Donna, I’m not certain about the world being a richer place for this blog, but I’m certain that I’m richer for writing it. Ouch about the satanist label. 🙁 Don’t you think, in the end, the label conferrer may say more about themself than the recipient?

    Jess, lol, all it means is that this particular battle has been won. (I’m still in the muddy middle.) However, my experience is that — after a single episode of hope following darkness — future darkness never becomes quite so dense. I had really bought into the idea these last two scenes were the end of my book, that I would quit. Now, no matter how bleak things get, there will be a part of me believing I’m waiting. Perhaps I need time, perhaps more skill, but if I persist and trust, chances are good it’ll arrive.

    Also, I do think you have labels, but they’re affirmative ones. 🙂 More Than Good Enough. Resting Before Applying Time and Effort. Future Revisor. All good labels to own, my friend.

    Dawn, thank you. By the way, I’ve stocked up on label-remover in case you or Donna need it this week. 😉

    CC, lol, you have many other labels besides. I would add Courageous, Determined, and Devoted Mother. BTW, you know that victory dance you’re doing for me? Looks very hawt on you. 😉

    Kathy, ouch! Sounds like most of the labels you recall are negative. When you say you’ve been a non-finisher to date, are you a writer too? Or do you mean about other things?

    I’d like to add Brave and Resilient to your collection, if I may. Do you know, I let that experience of mine at seventeen dictate too many years of my life. I lacked the courage to even show my writing to anyone in college. That you did so, got slapped in the face, but persisted, says to me that writing is deeply important to you.

  5. I predict YW will be a PW before very long. You work at your craft, you persist despite demands of family and the universe, and you manage to write and maintain a fabulous blog at the same time. Oh, did I say “you?” I meant YW, of course. And if we’re going to be precise, I can’t even call myself an M-A’dW. More of an O-A-DW (old as dirt) or SOW (saggy old writer).

    We write. We persist. We laugh in the face of rejection (or at least we don’t openly cry). And one day we’ll get it all right. Won’t we??

  6. Becke, you made me snort. And you are not a SOW. You are a BaNMDoWW (Barnes-and-Noble-Moderating-Dynamo-of-Writing Writer). So there. And yes, although I dare to say we’ll never get it “all right”, we’ll get it close enough, if we persist. And if we’re lucky. And if we’re not a DW before then. 😉

    Donna, yes indeed, you are an ACP. 🙂

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