Friday, October 05, 2007

A Big Pickle

Okay, before any of ya'll start thinking this is some green and twisted blog on erotica, ha! let's set the record straight: This is an essay about a dilemma.

Now that we've gotten that prickly bit of sensitive matter cleared up, let's proceed, shall we?

My dilemma is simple. Yet not. See, I'm a writer, but I'm also a photographer. I've been interested in both professions for most all my life, practicing at both, taking classes in both fields, selling both. In the past 10 or 15 years I've tended to concentrate more heavily on the writing aspect of my split personality. Until lately that is. And therein lies my big Kosher dill.

I love writing. It's in my blood and my soul, but I'm frustrated with it. At least the fiction side of it. I've had good success at non-fiction writing, sold a good deal of it, both as a freelancer, and as an on-staff crime reporter. But as far as fiction goes, I cannot easily measure success. Oh, there's the two books I've completed, that's something right there. I mean how many people can truthfully claim they've written two books? But as far as contests, contracts, agents, editors, I claim zip.

On the other hand, my successes at photography keep piling up. I have enough ribbons to decorate half my office wall. I sell framed work at a coffee house. A local gallery wants my work. I've had assignments from newspapers. I've taken high-school senior, family and baby portraits, covered weddings and lately even did a fad "Trash the Dress" shoot. Fun. And profitable. And when I see my work on display, like Paty's portrait on her website (the one which pops up beside her blog comments) or see the book cover of Genene's new release she designed with the photo I took, it makes me feel a little burst of pride. Which throws the fermented cucumber in my face again: Photography is in my heart and soul too. And it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that it helps pay the electric bill.

It also doesn't take 10 months to complete a photo assignment as it does to finish a novel. The biggest dill of all this is the time factor. With a young family, my creative time and my computer time is often limited to nap times. At the moment I am not having the time and/or the energy for both writing and photography, and frankly, it bothers me.

Now let an agent or book editor show more than a passing interest in my work, and watch my creative writing juices erupt. But in the meantime, I'm afraid the writing is stuck in the back of the frige like that last lone pickle in the bottom of the jar with only pieces of garlic, bits of dill weed and milky pickle sludge to keep it company at night.

So, here's the question: Do any of you out there have similar dilemmas? Paying work vs. dreams? Or other things pulling you in directions other than your chair and keyboard? Please share.


Elisabeth Naughton said...

Hmm...that is kind of a pickle, though not as big as I think you think. Size isn't everything, honey. ;)

One thing you wrote hit me: the meantime, I'm afraid the writing is stuck in the back of the frige like that last lone pickle in the bottom of the jar with only pieces of garlic, bits of dill weed and milky pickle sludge to keep it company at night.

When I read that line, Danita, my first thought was, wow. You have such a grasp on images and metaphors and you write really well. After thinking about your post though, I started thinking about something else you said:

But as far as fiction goes, I cannot easily measure success. Oh, there's the two books I've completed, that's something right there. I mean how many people can truthfully claim they've written two books? But as far as contests, contracts, agents, editors, I claim zip.

Now, I'm not shrink but it seems to me you're measuring your writing success on outside influences. Contests, contracts, agents, editors...those are all great, but if you aren't successful inside, what does the rest matter? You finished two books. TWO! You're right when you say not many people can claim that success. So why belittle it by worrying about what contest judges or agents and editors think? Only you know if those two books made you successful as a writer.

I'm probably not making much sense here, but I've learned that writing is a very internal process. Some people are writers and some are not. It's either in you - this insane drive to keep going - or it's not. And if it's not, that's not necessarily a bad thing. I've watched some not-so great writers hit it big because they were persistent whereas some phenomenal writers have dropped to the wayside because they measured success on outside influences and gave up when it got to be too much. I don't have a glass ball that will tell you when you'll sell - or if you ever will - but I don't think I'd want to look even if I could. Your success as a writer can only be measured by you - not by others' opinions but by how writing and finishing something makes you feel inside. Because, to be honest, contest wins and agents and editors and selling is only going to add more stress when it eventually happens. And if you aren't already successful inside because of your writing, no outside praise is going to do it for you.

You're a phenomenal writer. You're also a fabulous photographer. Lots of people have dual careers and make it work. It basically comes down to what you want and what you're willing to do for both. Or either.

Lori Barber said...

Danita- Thank you for sharing your heart with us. I'm not good at expressing my thoughts or offering advice, but I'll give it a whirl, though it may be more sour than that last dill pickle floating in the jar.

Life moves us through different seasons at different times throughout our whole lives. What we embrace and love with great passion today, we may find hybernating at some point in the future. That's not a bad thing. Other passions fill their place, and offer to fullfil other pressing issues, like family, finances, and health, to name a few.

What a blessing when a talented person like yourself has an abundance of gifts. Maybe today, your photography is calling you more strongly than your writing. If so, embrace that passion and follow its path in this season of your life. Don't fret or believe you're abandoning your writing. Your heart will call to you when the seasons have changed again. When you next pick up a pen or tap your fingers across the keyboard you may be pleasantly surprised and grateful for the new foliage your writing talents have produced.

Listen to your heart.

Don't suck on the sour pickle too long. All it will give you is a tummy ache.


Alice Sharpe said...

Danita, I think Eli and Lori stated things very well. Lori told you you don't have to choose, that you can be a writer now, a photographer later, or vice-versa. I think she's right. And only you know which aspect of your creativity is strongest at which point of your life. I can certainly understand how the time restrictions and energy demands of raising a young family could make something with a quicker turn around and more flexibility seem preferable. And there is always that underlying factor to contend with and that's profit. Writers write not only for their own satisfaction but also because they enjoy helping their families financially -- it's always been this way and I imagine it always will be. I don't think there's anything wrong with that.

But Eli made some excellent points, as well. She's right, you do have a command of language and a fresh voice and you do write well. And she is also right that you can't measure how far you've come by external factors alone as they are unreliable and fickle.

I agree with her that lots of people have more than one career. So maybe you keep sending your book out as you continue taking photos, and maybe the next time a story comes aknockin' you take some time to write it out and send it out and...etc... Can't you just concentrate on one or the other as your heart and time allow?

I guess I don't see this as an either/or situation so maybe I missed your point. But I, too, love that last pickle in the jar image and I also love Genene's cover. I say, why limit yourself??

Danita Cahill said...

Wow Eli, what an encouraging reply. And thanks for the swirling pickle sludge compliment. Ha!

And who told you size isn't everything? Bet it wasn't a female...hee hee.

And you're right, I AM a writer, and that in itself is success. When someone asks what I do, I say I am a writer and photographer. I just don't mention I make more money from one than the other.

When a person has only a limited amount of time available to try to do something mostly from home to help contribute to the family, it's easy to measure success in the form of dollars and cents.

Thanks again for the pep talk. It means a lot.

Danita Cahill said...


So good to see you on here regularly.

Thank you for the "seasons" analogy. You're right, I don't have to pick one or the other, and I guess that's the dilemma I'm pickling about. And when I'm not writing, I have horrible bouts of guilt, as though it is my destiny, my job, my commitment to carry on no matter I feel like I'm letting my writing friends down in a way when I'm not pounding out sentences on my laptop.

As far as pickles giving me a tummy ache, oh contrare! I crave their sour, salty crunch right now. In fact, I might go tackle that last pickle right now...ha!

Paty Jager said...

Eli, Lori, and Alice all had great comments.

You know you are a writer and you know you are a photographer- Go with the one pulling on your muse the most, but don't lose touch with the other because you never know when that one may rear up and be ready to push beyond the other.

Danita Cahill said...

Thanks Alice.

The rest of you may not know, but this is Alice's second pep talk to me on this subject. I called her a couple months ago voicing my feelings and she was very helpful. It was shortly after that I wrote a similar pickle blog, only to have my computer gobble it up. That's why Wavy had to fill in for me that week.

So far it's anonymous, the vote is: I don't have to choose. Yay! Now that it's put to me so simply, I feel sort of silly for even worrying about it.

Thanks, ladies!

Danita Cahill said...


Thanks for your vote too.

I'm feeling better all the time!

Karen Duvall said...

Danita, I'm a career designer and a very "hopeful" career author. I do both, and they conflict all the time, but both are very important to me and I make it work. Sort of. However, I have to admit that I'm really getting burned out on graphic design, though I know I'd miss it if I couldn't do it. The grass always appears greener somewhere else.

Both are creative endeavors, so they each feed my soul in different ways. The design pays the bills, the writing, ahem, costs me lots more than I make, but it gladdens my heart. And that makes it worth it.

My point is that you can do both. And be a mom, and a wife, and a friend, etc... It's what we women do. We're fierce! We want it all and honey, we deserve it. 8^)

Genene said...

You've already received wise words and encouragement from others. I can second and third what others have said: you don't have to choose.

And, yes, I've faced a similar dilemma and that's part of my presentation next week to an RWA chapter in Washington. Last fall, I had decided to give up writing and concentrate on my passions that were bringing in money -- mainly, graphic design. Then I sold two manuscripts and the writing side of my life seemed more positive. In the meantime, I had gone to work at the humane society part-time and started fostering dogs where I could use my Reiki training -- two more passions.

All these things I love, but I seriously overbooked my time, as any of you could have probably told me months ago. That's where Lori's mention of "seasons" comes in. After next week, I'll breathing easier again. Some of my major projects (including your Web site, Danita!) will be wrapping up. I want to slow down and enjoy the holidays while I work on some selected projects more slooooowly and finish my plans for promoting my books. After the first of the year, I'll focus on promoting and writing again. That ebb and flow of life's passions.

However, my passions also blend together. My graphic and Web design skills are supporting the writing side of my life by allowing me to do my own Web sites, book covers and promotion materials. Pets always seem to appear naturally in my stories, so I'm planning on donating part of my sales to local animal shelters. My latest graphics job also includes some writing and editing. And the lessons and positive growth from my Reiki training is the foundation for all the pieces of my life.

You said it yourself: you are a writer AND a photographer. Maybe at some point there will be ways you can combine these two passions. (You'll be getting a photo credit in my books, you know!) How about traveling to exotic places -- with young family in tow :) -- to write a travel book and take fabulous photos? Or maybe sell articles with photos to magazines? Or maybe write a book with stunning photos of women who follow their passions through the seasons of their hearts? Not sacrificing one for the other, but letting each have their own time in life?

OK, enough from me. I'm going to finish my promo materials and basket, then grab a few hours sleep before our conference, because I don't get to breathe until later in the week. :)

See you ladies at the conference!

Danita Cahill said...


I thought of you when I wrote this entry because I knew you were battling a similar situation. (If battling is the right word).

You're right, we do want, and deserve, it all!

Danita Cahill said...


I know you are famous for burning the candle at both ends, so of course you can totally relate to what I'm talking about here.

So glad you will have some breathing space soon and a little down time over the holidays. But I have to admit, I'm equally glad you will be getting my website up and running soon. Woo-hoo! I can't wait. Don't know how many people who want to see photo samples I keep telling "Soon. Soon," about the website.

Lisa Pulliam said...

Thanks for sharing that Danita, it's nice to know we're not alone. And look at Dr. Eli! lol right on the money I think.

I feel torn between what I want to do and what I should do as well. I spend a lot of my extra time doing freelance PR. It helps give me extra money to pay bills. But I'd rather be writing. Plus, doing so much writing at between my day job and freelancing, tends to burn me out when it comes to novel writing.

Then there's the whole career thing. I'm doing PR, I feel fairly comfortable with it, but I'm pursuing an anthropology degree. And it would be AMAZING to become an archaeologist. But would I make a steady living? Would I end up being happier?

Pickles, pickles everywhere.

Danita Cahill said...


Good luck taming your pickles. Damn rowdy, fermented cukes anyway!