My Apollo 13 Moment
Being a child of the 80s, I am, at heart, a space buff. I poured over my kids’ science magazine detailing the Space Shuttle's specifications. I was devastated when Challenger exploded in 1986 and Columbia did as well in 2003. Then when Atlantis landed for the final time in July 2011, I was saddened we had lost something as a country. Our collective drive to discover, I suppose.
Although the Apollo 13 failed lunar mission took place before I was born, I watched with fascination many years later the Ron Howard film of the same name. I knew from history that the crew lived, but I was riveted to the screen as astronauts Jim Lovell, Jack Swigert and Fred Haise scrambled to cannibalize their supplies in order to limp back safely to earth. They realized they had to give up on their dream so they could live to fly another day.
As a writer, I have discovered that the writing, pitching, publication and sales of each book seem almost as complex as a space mission. There are so many items on the checklist and if any of them go wrong, the entire project can crash and burn. For full-time writers, such failure might mean less food on the dinner table. Thankfully, that’s not the case with me.
On a recent book project, I realized I had to jettison my plans and disassemble the component parts. The manuscript, which was written as much from my heart as my imagination, was good but not good enough. I was passionate about the tale, but those I trust broke the news to me it wasn’t as well crafted as I thought. After the first person told me this, I dug in my heels and refused to listen to the sage advice for months on end. It took some deep reflection, insight received at a recent writers conference and the counsel of another close adviser before I knew for sure the project needed to be shelved.
Now, all is not lost. Parts of the book may find their way into future projects. They will need to be re-tooled to be sure, but like Lovell, Swigert and Haise, I am not willing to lose sight of the greater mission. Being a writer has never been just a passing fancy for me, so I won't end my career because of one shipwreck. I’m taking what I can from the experience and moving on.
One of the space-related groups I was part of as a teen had the following motto: ad astra per ardua (to the stars, with effort).
With a little effort, I am hoping to soar to reach my own stars.
For Christmas, my wife bought me the DVDs for the one-season cult classic “The Adventures of Brisco County Jr.” Now the show itself, a parody of classic westerns, offers a mostly harmless way of filling a free hour or two on a weekend afternoon, there are larger themes just below its campy surface.
Throughout the story, which takes place at the end of the 19th century, the protagonist is eager to find out about “The Coming Thing”. This drive taps into the collective sense of anticipation that engages the populace every decade, century or millennium. We all peer into the future with a mixture of emotions and for many, these are feelings of anticipation and hope.
For myself, my eyes have been opened to a book-writing career that has just begun. Having sold my first 100 copies, my free time is filled with building my platform and expanding the markets for my work.
This lesson transfers well beyond the world of writing. We all have a “Coming Thing” in our lives. Whether we are deciding to get a new job, return to school, start a new relationship or travel to an exciting or exotic land, our lives are filled with opportunities for change.
Too often we shrink away from these opportunities in fear and trepidation. We loathe change because it means adding some chaos and unpredictability into our well-ordered lives. Even if things are going rather poorly, at least we know what to expect from the future.
I say we should seize the spirit of the new year and embrace the idea of change and discovery. I have learned that even when I take a wrong turn on the way to my destination, at least the scenery usually is interesting. Perhaps it’s time to enjoy a bit of the scenery life has to offer.
So, what’s “The Coming Thing” in your life and what are you willing to do to make it a reality?
I've been writing stories and taking photos since I was old enough to hold a pencil and stand behind a tripod.