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Years back, when I lived in Seattle, a certain graffito adorned buildings around town: "The urge to buy terrorizes you." Being a non-consuming sort, the urge to buy in fact did not terrorize me. However, the phrase stuck in my head, much as had a graffito in large white letters painted on the bricks just outside my dorm in my senior year at Macalester College-- "Why are you stoned when you should be studying?"
If I ever teach a writing class, maybe I'll call it "The urge to publish terrorizes you." I would give my students this assignment: "Do not send anything out for publication for six months. For extra credit, do not send anything out for publication for one year. And now, let us write."
I had pretty good success when I initially started sending work out. THE SUN published my Faulknerian piece about a spying adolescent older brother, although they gave it a Hemingway buzzcut; a story won a $500 prize for first fiction in an online southern magazine, which the editor then failed to pay; I won several grants, etc.
But several years ago I had a vivid dream involving a couple of gorgeous Great Blue Herons wading in a luminous lake. They were talking to me, quietly, gently. When I woke I knew instantly that this was a visit from my Muse, and that she was directing me to stop sending anything out to be published. I've kept dream journals for decades and trust my dreams, so I obeyed. I started listening, without the pressure of seeking publication, to what my stories and novels wanted to do. I sent nothing out for years.
The result was that the writing deepened. It went places that were uncomfortable, and hilarious, and fun, and quirky, and sad, and took things to a new level for me, both in quality of writing and in enjoyment of the craft. The Muse was right. For me, it was time to turn inward, and listen, and trust, without any outside input.
As my Eastern Philosophies professor, Dr. David White, said once, "I do my work and watch it come to term, success or failure being by-product."
Yes, says the Muse, that is pretty much what I meant for you to discover. Let go of fear and ambition and the need for validation, and your wings will find the strength to rise.

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