Spring in New Mexico is pretty rough. The humidity feels like it’s below zero and wind averages twenty miles per hour, day after day. Some days are windier, and things fly around that were never meant to fly, along with a lot of dust and sand. It started early this year, in mid-February, cutting off a good two weeks of our beautiful, gentle winter.
Suddenly, a winter day appeared in March. Fifty-nine degrees. No wind. When I started my run, there was hint of petrichor in the air, the scent of rain. None fell, but it was a sweet moment. The clouds parted, the sun beamed warmth between them, and spring beauty I tend to overlook when distracted by enduring the wind emerged to my attention. Small green plants pushing up in the desert despite lack of rain. Quail and doves and roadrunners calling out to their kind, and quail darting across the trail. A little beige ground squirrel running at full speed, its tail flying out behind it.
Every step and every breath was pure delight. Neither hot nor cold. No strain, no suffering. Just bliss and beauty. The touch of the sun brought pleasure with no “in spite of.”
Then I did my plant care chores as no chore at all, watering fruit trees and garden plants for neighbors who are often away. The plum tree was in full bloom. Bees buzzed in it and in the blossoms of the cottonwood trees. Spring-like pleasure without the stress of normal spring. The wind was due back the next day, and knowing this, I basked in every second. One perfect day.
Can I cherish every day the same way?
My first completed manuscript was awful. I’ve saved it, but shared it with no one. It was an exercise is completing a plot and proving to myself I could do it. My second completed manuscript was awful, too, but I thought it was better, and I shared it with my first writing critique partners, fellow members of the Guppies (Great Unpublished) subgroup of Sisters in Crime.
I was so lucky. One person hated it and didn’t finish it, and her harsh critique was pretty accurate. The other found the strengths in the mess, the gems in the muck, and supported me. She loved my characters so much she took an incredible amount of time to graciously point out my beginner writing mistakes and to explain why they were mistakes. She was under no obligation to work that hard for no pay. Yet she did. She was more experienced, and she saw promise in this beginner.
My first book, The Calling, emerged from that manuscript a few years later. It has many of the same characters. It has the same theme. But not the same plot. My style and structure improved. I read books on writing, took classes on writing, and worked with additional critique partners. With all that the help over the years of revision and polishing, I crafted a solid, favorably-reviewed book.
This week, I finished a critique of a first-time novelist’s manuscript. I’ve read three versions of it, investing in this book the way my early critique partner invested in mine. The author is gifted. She made newbie errors, but I could see the gems beneath them, as could her other beta readers. She had an original idea, fascinating characters, and outstanding research. I’ve been a published author for going on ten years now. It felt good to “pay it forward.” I may be alone at my desk tonight, but not a single book I’ve published has truly been written alone.