Thursday, February 21, 2013

Kicking the Bucket List

Recently a "getting to know you" question was posed at a (non-writing) online group I frequent: Three items from your bucket list. I was surprised how many women posted, as one of their top three bucket list items, some variant of getting published.  (I am assuming most meant traditional publication, not self-publishing.)

"Publish a book."

"Be a published writer."

"Publish something, maybe an article if not a book."

I shouldn't have been surprised that there are so many hopeful writers out there--after all, NaNoWriMo was conceived to help the millions of people who have said "Gosh, I would love to write a book" give that goal wings.  But I was, for a couple reasons, surprised how prominent writing and being published was on bucket lists.

One, I admit, was prideful.  I have worked darn hard to get where I am as a writer--and I'm not even published yet.  To put "publish a book" alongside "swim with the dolphins" and similar "experience" list items seems to misunderstand what it means to publish.  It's work.  It's hard, long, slogging, discouraging work.  It's not saving your money and planning a trip.  It's not screwing up the courage to skydive.  It's day-in, day-out working toward a goal.

But the other is less me being a jerk, more me being compassionate.  It's in the same vein--misunderstanding what it means to publish.  Because here's the thing--you can work day-in and day-out and still not publish.  You can make it your life's goal and never get there, through no fault of your own.  You can try, try, try again, and never achieve that external marker of success we call publication.

There's a difference between putting "write a book" on your bucket list, and putting "publish a book" (assuming you mean traditional publishing).  In the first, the onus is on you.  Either you write your book or you don't.  Either you take the time and put in the effort, or you don't finish your book.  But the second--you have much less control over that.  Yes, I do believe in hard work and dedication and perseverance, and that most of the time when combined with talent they will yield results.  Not always, though.  Sometimes a lifetime of striving still doesn't reach the goal.

And when that's the case--in my world, that item doesn't go on your bucket list.  Your bucket list is about what you can accomplish, not what might or might not be possible because of circumstances outside your control.  Those items--the ones you need a pinch of luck and/or a lot of help with--can go on your "lofty goals for my life" list, but, in my view, leave the bucket list for the things you can do on your own.

What do you think--are there writing goals that belong on the bucket list?  Am I off-base with how I see bucket lists?  Is the whole idea kind of dumb?

For fun:  Three things on my bucket list:

Learn classical guitar or another instrument that doesn't involve making space for a piano.
Make and wear a vintage "capsule wardrobe."
Learn enough of one of the many "I would love to learn [fill in the blank language]" to function on a trip there--and then take a trip that forces me to use it.

What are yours?

2 comments:

  1. Hi Rowenna! I definitely agree. It comes down to learning to be happy - do we base our happiness on extrinsic things that you have no control over (publish a book, act in Broadway) or on intrinsic things that you are responsible for (write a book, take care of a kitten)? And you should feel proud of yourself :)

    What's a capsule wardrobe??

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  2. Sorry I missed you, Carrie! Excellent point about happiness. By capsule wardrobe I mean a few key pieces that I could mix and match to wear for, say, a week or so.

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