Paths are made of pebbles. This pebble here may be far tinier than that massive one, or maybe the one back a ways had such pretty colors, while the one at your feet is dull and unimpressive. But say that ahead of you there is no path — you have to build it yourself out of pebbles as you go. In that case, you need every single pebble, or you're just going to stay put (or, best case, move ahead far more slowly than you want). Not only that, but the only way you can reach more pebbles, maybe even better pebbles, is to keep building the path to get to them.

That's what it's like to make a career in the arts. You have to look around you, search for pebbles (skills, experiences, accidents, what have you), grasp them, and place them before you, to support you for the next step. Writers are very fortunate in that nothing that we do or that happens to us is wasted — it's all pebbles. Some of them seem at the time to be only annoying distractions or regrettable deviations from the path we'd rather be making. But looking back along the path reveals that every pebble belonged there all the time.

Here are some of the pebbles I've picked up over the years (and it's only a very small sample of the actual list).
  • Learning to ride horses
  • The coaching of a really good high-school English teacher
  • Camping
  • Juggling (good for the brain!)
  • Clarion South
  • Writing one-minute plays
  • Learning media and event management
  • Cooking
  • Living in a foreign country
  • Going to science-fiction conventions (yes, it's useful for writers to do this)
  • Sitting through rehearsals of other people's plays
  • Being able to read music
  • Learning a bit of elementary computer programming
  • That job packing books in a warehouse
  • Volunteering with the State Emergency Service
  • Traveling to Siberia
  • This one time when I was 15 and my mom took me to a production of Rostand's Cyrano de Bergerac
Like I said, that's only a partial list. Every thing on that list has come in handy, and more than handy: providing plot twists or details that I can write about, or bringing me into contact with people who have helped me immensely (God bless them), or giving me skills that make my writing better, or just plain making my imagination stronger and more outrageous.

So don't despair if you look around you and you're not where you want to be. You're building a path, with the pebbles you can reach right now. And while you're at it, why not stretch just a little further, to get a few more pebbles?


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