Her head covering was purple and she’s from an ancient Indonesian Muslim ethnic group. My pants were stained with ink marks and I’m American, now living in Indonesia. She’s pursuing journalism. Fiction writing for me.
We were two writers sitting next to each other in the airport as we both waited for our connections to different Borneo towns. We’d just been to the same Asia-wide writer’s conference in Bali. We both clutched books we’d bought from real-live published authors, both holding onto writing dreams. We mirrored that familiar mixture of desperation, inspiration and hope on both of our faces as we chatted.
“Where do you work?” I asked. “A newspaper? Magazine?”
I nodded. I’ve heard this answer hundreds of times since moving to Indonesia 11 years ago. Married? “Not yet.” Have kids? “Not yet.”
It’s the only right answer to these very specific culturally appropriate small-talk questions. Marriage and family are so important in this traditional culture that no one I’ve ever met here chooses a hard, definite “no.” In other words, “not yet” is an entirely acceptable place to be when life isn’t (yet) as they hope it to be.
We understand this as writers. None of us are choosing that hard “no.” We aren’t choosing to never write again (though I’ve pondered it a time or two when in the query trenches). We don’t choose not to get published (though the odds , at times, seem slim). We don’t want to write only for ourselves, (preferring instead to keep the hope alive for the special connection with a reader will someday happen).
Our dream usually lies—very acceptably —in that “not yet.” As in, not yet settled on the right idea, but still exploring and researching for just the perfect gems that will bring the idea to life. Not yet done with the plot line or the character arc but hitting the computer keys at 5 a.m. every day to watch/force/hope for it to unfold. Not yet done rewriting, but still plodding along, shining those drab first-draft words into magical prose. Not yet got this whole writer’s life figured out, but still tweaking schedules, reading books, reaching out to others who are a little further down the writer’s track than us, balancing other important aspects of life like family and work.
And maybe…not yet published, but determined to keep querying, keep writing, keep learning, keep trying.
We write and live and connect and survive and struggle and rant and fight and create and delight and delete entire chapters and sometimes get our hearts broken and then open our documents the next day to begin to heal again. All in the “not yet.”
My flight was called, and the “not yet” journalist and I exchanged contact information, determined to keep in touch to cheer each other on toward our “not yet” but now a little more revived writing goals. Join us?
Rebecca Hopkins writes novels about a world of ancient jungle tribes, sea-dwelling gypsies and isolated Balinese hand signing villages. It’s a world she’s trying to make her own—Indonesia. She’s lived in Indonesia with her relief pilot husband and three kids for eleven years.