The Flop Artist Writer

The Flop Artist Writer

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Reader's Choice 20th Anniversary Edition

The Flop Artist Writer

It is not enough to be busy; so are the ants. The question is: What are we busy about?

~Henry David Thoreau

I’d written over forty thousand radio commercials during my career as a copywriter. But when station management moved my workspace to the noisiest room in the building, I decided forty thousand were enough for one lifetime.

Armed with nothing more than a twenty-five-year-old Bachelor of Arts degree in English, I had to face the fact that at age forty-seven the only skill, talent or training I had was that of a writer. In addition to radio and television commercials, I’d written promotional material, newsletters, speeches, brochures, videos, policy manuals and catalogs for numerous advertisers over the years. But I was tired of all that advertising writing. Convincing people to buy things they probably didn’t need, and perhaps couldn’t afford, did not seem to be the most noble thing I could do with the writing skills God gave me.

So in September, 1992, I left the job that had been paying me a respectable salary to live on my savings while I got serious about the kind of writing I really wanted to do — inspirational articles, books and columns. I decided to become a full-time freelance writer, working in my home.

It was wonderful! I enjoyed leisurely cups of tea in the morning while I watched the Today show. I soon realized that I didn’t even have to get dressed. I could slop around in my sweatshirt and baggy red pajama bottoms all day if I wanted to.

“What’s this?” I said aloud to myself as I flipped TV channels. “A talk show? I love talk shows!” The topics were shocking. Women in their thirties and forties who married teenage boys; men having sex change operations; women murderers; children being indoctrinated into the Ku Klux Klan; women who married prisoners on death row; people who physically abused their elderly parents; fourteen- and fifteen-year-olds who demanded to be allowed to smoke, drink, do drugs and have sex in their own homes. The shows depressed me, but I kept watching, intrigued by real people who would tell all on national TV.

After the talk shows I’d have another cup of tea. Then I’d begin some serious putzing. Water the plants. Paint another sweatshirt for my Christmas gift collection. Talk to my unemployed nurse friend on the phone for an hour. Put a load of clothes in the washer. Feed the birds. Make spaghetti sauce. Run errands.

“Whoa, lunch time already?” Time for another TV talk show. More phone calls. Well, you get the picture. Very often I didn’t get to my writing room until 3:00 p.m., and more often than not I didn’t get there at all. But I was having a ball. After Christmas I took up cross-country skiing. Mother Nature cooperated with more snow than we’d had in years.

That winter I also welcomed hosts of out-of-town friends and relatives and spent days doing “white glove inspection” cleaning before my houseguests arrived.

After weeks of not setting foot inside my writing room or even turning on my computer, I started to feel like a slug. But I kept busy running errands, cleaning house, watching more TV talk shows and, yes, I even started taking mid-afternoon naps.

One day at the drugstore I picked up three candy bars, favorites of my thirteen-year-old son Andrew, my only child still at home. My other three were all full-time college students, living away from home, so mothering Andrew had become my sole occupation from 4:00 p.m. until 8:00 a.m. the next morning. When I got home I sat down at the kitchen counter, flipped on the TV and decided it would be fun to send Andrew on a treasure hunt for his candy. I cut a sheet of paper into eight pieces. On the first I wrote, “There’s a tasty prize for you at the end of the Mama Lorenz treasure hunt. The first clue is at the place that rhymes with bears.”

Taped to one of the upper stairs was the next clue. “Clue number three is not on this floor. But it is near the door. Look up!” Andrew ran upstairs and down looking for and finding his clues, laughing all the way. He was having as much fun on his treasure hunt as I had writing and hiding the clues.

Clue number eight said, “You’re tired, right? Go to bed. Hug your pillow. Dream sweet dreams and enjoy your prize. I love you. Mom.” He found the candy inside his pillow.

After a big hug and giant “Thanks, Mom!” Andrew stood next to the kitchen counter where I was sitting watching Oprah on the kitchen TV. My son put his arm around my shoulders, held out the eight slips of paper with the treasure hunt clues, and paused for a moment before he said, “So, Mom, is this what you do now instead of earning money?”

His simple question hit me hard. The eight clues I’d written for Andrew’s little treasure hunt were the first words I’d actually written in months. I’d found every excuse imaginable to avoid real writing, the kind of writing that could help me earn an income.

I walked to the bathroom and looked at myself in the mirror. I was a single woman, flop artist. I’d gained fifteen pounds since I’d quit my job. I felt brain dead. I knew that writing silly little treasure hunt clues for my seventh-grader was not what the good Lord had in mind when He gave me the ability to write.

I knew I had to get back in shape physically, mentally, spiritually and professionally. On the white message board next to the front door, I wrote five lines in bold, black marker:

FIVE MILES, FIVE DAYS

FIVE GLASSES OF WATER

FIVE MINUTES OF SCRIPTURE

FIVE ARTICLES TO READ A DAY

FIVE ARTICLES MAILED EACH WEEK

It was my prescription for my new career and my new life. I would ride my exercise bike five miles a day, Monday through Friday. I would drink at least five glasses of water a day to flush out all the sugary foods I’d been eating and to help get my body back in shape. I would start each morning with five minutes of scripture or prayer. I’d been meaning to read the Psalms, one by one, for years. Now I would do it. If I kept the Bible on the kitchen counter, I knew I’d pick it up and start reading each morning.

I needed to catch up on reading and turn off the TV. Books, magazines and newspapers were stacked on my coffee table, abandoned in favor of those ridiculous TV talk shows. My new promises to myself included reading at least five articles or chapters each day, especially the ones in my professional writer’s magazines.

And finally, five manuscripts in the mail each week meant that I had to get busy in my writing room every single day. I had to write. I had to rewrite and rework articles, stories and essays that I’d written in previous years and get them in shape to send to editors. My goal was to rewrite old pieces or write new ones to the tune of at least five a week and then put them in the mail to editors.

By the end of the next week I’d put a dozen manuscripts in the mail, some newly written, some I was trying to sell as reprints. I started writing more and searching for new markets on a daily basis.

I even started dressing for work. My new routine consisted of breakfast, reading and finishing my second cup of tea by 9:00 a.m., riding my exercise bike at least five miles (and often seven or eight) a day, showering, getting dressed (no pajamas allowed at work!) and being on the job in my writing room by 10:00 a.m. each weekday morning.

I still had time for a treasure hunt with Andrew every once in a while, but my five-step plan taught me that I had a lot more to share with him when he came in the door at 4:00 p.m. than silly treasure hunt clues. My own treasure hunt for more structured, more successful, work-at-home writing so far has reaped six books, dozens of newly published articles and stories, a syndicated column and a speaking career to boot. But the best part of all is the knowledge that who I am is truly based on what I do with the talent God has given me. And what I do is write. Every day.

~Patricia Lorenz

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