A couple of weeks ago I made a huge decision- in September I’m going to leave the stressful job with the killer commute and give myself the gift of six months (longer if I can) to focus on writing.
So how has making that decision affected me? That decision that’s big and scary and challenging and joyful and could be so right or could be the biggest mistake of my life?
It’s been an interesting emotional roller-coaster ride!
It feels good. Quiet happiness and satisfaction that finally I’m doing it, I’m going to go all out for this dream and give it everything I’ve got.
I’ve wanted to make my living from writing since I realised as a kid that people got paid for writing all those books I borrowed from the library each week. At fifty one, it’s long past time to give it a go and stop listening to all those reasons not to that stopped me for the last thirty five years. I don’t want to keep putting the life I want to live on hold until I win the lottery or retire or the stars align or whatever. I want to make writing my priority now.
It will be so good to get up in the morning at the time that suits me best, not 5.45am when the alarm goes off. It will be good to not be so brain-fried from the Day Job and so frantic trying to fit all the have-to-be-dones into my days off that writing gets pushed to the edge and what I want to be my top priority gets done in the gaps or last thing at night when I need sleep.
Right now, when there’s four inches of snow on the ground and the temperature has scarcely gone above freezing all week, it’s also good to know my commute next winter will involve no more than reaching out and picking up my laptop!
But I’m also telling myself this decision is nuts. It’s irresponsible, self-indulgent, and doomed to failure.
Those nasty nagging voices in my head that sound a lot like my Mum and Dad and all my least favourite teachers have started up, big time. They usually mean well. They’re trying to protect me from being hurt and prepare me for the “real” world. But they hold me back from being all I can be. They tell me it’s better not to have adventures, adventures are dangerous.
They create fear and guilt.
A lot of what mine nag about is financial. My husband can’t work and is financially dependent on me. Not to mention a house full of cats. Right now, I may have one of the most stressful jobs ever, but I also have the best paid job I’ve ever had. The most I’ve made from writing in my whole life is $10 when I was sixteen for an article in a church magazine, and £140 when I was thirty nine for a nursing article. That’s not going to stretch too far when the only person earning money in our home stops getting a regular paycheck. How can I be crazy enough to even think of throwing that away to write?
I get the guilt too. I’m depriving my husband, forcing him to live more frugally to chase my dream. Isn’t that selfish?
And issues around simply giving myself permission. Who am I to decide I can take time off to write? Writing’s not work, that’s just a hobby. It doesn’t earn any money, does it, so you can’t be serious. You need to stay in your real job. It’s crazy to give such a good job up. How do you know you are good enough? What if it doesn’t work out? You’re going to crash and burn and then you’ll be sorry.
That’s getting into the next layer under the guilt. The fear.
Oh my, the fear.
They get me on two fronts with this one. What if I’m risking my big future dream of retiring to Australia and being a full-time writer then, by jumping too soon and doing this now.
And even worse, what if it doesn’t work out at all. What if after six months full time writing, giving it my darnedest, spending eight hours a day writing, I still can’t sell a story. How much is it going to hurt if I try and I fail? Do I really want to know I can’t do it? Maybe those voices are right. maybe this is a stupid idea. Maybe I’d be better staying in this job and keep on just writing when I can. Or at least I should wait until I’m published. Or until I can get a part-time job. I just don’t write well enough yet to make such a big move.
Probably all true. But hey, I’m doing it anyway.
It’s not a wild and crazy impulse decision. I’ve done the sums. Barring disasters between now and September, I’ll have enough money saved for us to live on for a year, if we’re frugal, without breaking into the main retirement/ Aussie move savings pot. I can give myself six months off, then get a part-time job if I need to. financially, it’s workable.
But I just need to shut those voices up long enough to let me actually get some writing done in the meantime! They’re nagging me so badly, my productivity has plummeted since I made the big decision.
Now, I don’t think I’m the only one who has those built-in nags. I think most of us who make writing a priority get this. Anyone who decides to focus on any creative non-traditional path and not the “real job” route. We all have different situations, different things they use to guilt us with. I’m sure for anyone with children, kids play a big part in the guilt stuff.
For most of us, there have been people in our lives who want us to conform and do what’s expected and play it safe. They think that’s protecting us. When we grow up, we internalise those voices. And they keep telling us how we should be, even when doing what they say means giving up our deepest dreams. We’ll be dreamless, but we’ll be safe. They sing us tempting lullabies. We’ll never have the hurt of another rejection ever again.
I’m at the point where rejections hurt less than knowing I’m not giving it a go. I’m saying “Bring it on” to rejections. Yes, they’ll still hurt, but they’ll mean I tried. They’ll mean I’ve written another story, I’ve sent it out, I’ve learned another lesson in being a better writer.
If only I can shut those voices up long enough to let me hear my characters speak!
I’m not sure what the answer is to these inner voices except to listen to them and acknowledge them, gently thank them for their message, and tell them I’m doing it anyway. They have to be challenged head on. If I don’t, they can sabotage me in subtle and sneaky ways. They go underground, where I don’t hear them for who they are.
When I don’t acknowledge them, suddenly, I become very busy with other things besides writing. The thought of writing makes me vaguely nauseated. All I can think about is how I ought to be doing something else. It paralyses my writing and sucks all the joy out of it.
Oh, my inner voices are pros at their jobs of finding what else I should be doing every time I want to write. They make me think it’s what I’d rather be doing. I should be selling stuff on eBay and making money that way. I should be sewing, that’s a sensible thing to do. At least then I’m both reducing my ridiculous fabric stash a bit and producing something real and practical, not writing another crappy story that will get rejected like all the others. What about some housework, the bathroom is a mess. And hey, if I have that much time to spare, I should do something real like volunteering, or getting a part-time job. Or studying. What about finishing that nursing degree?
When they are in full flow, whether out there as nagging pseudo-parental voices or whether they’ve managed to con me into thinking it’s actually me telling myself all this stuff , I’m lucky if I can get five hundred words written, even on a non-work day.
That’s not a fun place to be. And the voices use that to reinforce their argument. See, you’d be so much happier if you stopped writing. All it does is make you miserable. What the inner voices forget to tell me is that it’s not writing making me miserable.
Well, blow you inner voices! I know you’re trying to stop me being hurt. but it’s time to follow this dream. Thank you for your advice. I know you’re trying to help me, but I’m willing to take this risk.
Lucky you if you don’t have them!
I think most of us who make writing a priority get this. We all have different situations, but for most of us, there have been people in our lives who want us to conform and do what’s expected and play it safe. When we grow up, we internalise those voices.
So is it just me? Am I really nuts? Or do you have the nasty naggers too? How do you deal with them?