I was heartbroken. This piece took nearly three and a half years to complete, and I felt it was my best work. But under the scrutnizing eye of others, it didn't measure up.
Family and friends consoled me and urged me to keep at it. Don't give up, they said, because eventually you'll win. As I considered the situation, though, I started to realize some things. That project had been very time consuming and difficult for me to complete; to the point that it became frustrating in the end. In fact, part of the reason why it took me so long to finish the project was because I put it on hiatus for a period of 7 months while I wrote Blurry. I realized that looking over that period of time, the hobby that brought me the most contentment wasn't the cross stitch, but writing the novel. It made me ask myself what I really wanted to see bear fruit in my life, and the answer, without a hitch, was my writing. So the next time a friend encouraged me to start a new stitching project, I finally admitted a truth that I should have faced sooner. "You know," I said, "I realize now that stitching is an arena for others. Writing is mine, and I need to return to it."
That wasn't well received. A lot of people assumed I was quitting and saw it as a bad sign and completely out of character for me. What they didn't know was that an idea for another novel was developing. Soon after, I began work on Anywhere But Here, a novel about a young woman battling depression in the face of major life transitions. I made it my mission after that failed contest to grow and develop as a writer, and it paid off. Blurry was published by Wings ePress in August 2011; Anywhere But Here will be published by Whiskey Creek Press in April 2012, and I recently completed Splinter, a sci-fi apocolyptic novel that I successfully completed a rough draft of during 2010 National Novel Writing Month.
I could have given you a monologue about mining your talents and finding your passions, but I felt that relating this experience would be a better demonstration of the process of using your interests and experiences to find authenticity and purpose. All of us have a number of talents, skills and abilities with potential for development, but our time and energy are limited. There simply isn't enough time in a day, week, month, year, season or lifetime to do it all. You have to set priorities by making active decisions on what you want to see bear fruit in your life and investing in those purposes. Prayer, of course, is the best way to do this, because it helps us to look within and be absolutely honest with God and ourselves about what's best for life.
Another point I hope you take from this is that finding authenticity and purpose is a journey. I didn't wake up one day and say "I'm putting stitching on a back burner while I focus on writing more material and learning how to get published and promoted." It was trying and failing, assessing myself and learning from mistakes, making realizations and trying again. It's a process of trial and error, and you will certainly make mistakes. Don't look on it as wasted time, though. The missteps and mistakes can be mined for wisdom that leads to success in future endeavors. I knew that hard work was the key to progress, but this experience also taught me the importance of focus. I saw the true meaning of "a jack of all trades is a master at none" and realized that I needed to pick what meant the most and zoom in on that as my primary goal.
Above and beyond all else, I hope you see the importance of being true to yourself. Others can mean the best and still be wrong. You are the only one that has to live with yourself and your life 100% of the time. The path will only be revealed to you, and there are many steps in that path that won't make a bit of sense to others. That's ok. The ones that are meant to share the journey will learn to accept you for what you were created to be. The others will fall away. Simple as that.
As a final note, I'd like to mention that I haven't completely given up cross stitching, but I'm limiting my projects to very small scale items. That's more practical for my current lifestyle. Maybe one day I'll tackle another large project, but for now my focus is on becoming a better writer. And to me, that's what really matters.
Next time: Standing Alone - Staying Strong Under Attack.