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Dealing with fear and unhappiness – being published won’t fix everything

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I’m trying to feel my emotions more honestly. Because how the hell can I hope to write emotionally real stories if I’m suppressing my own feelings, too scared of ever letting myself feel anything?

Two big emotional issues have come up this week and I need to deal with them. That’s just as important a part of my preparation for writing full time as studying craft skills and learning how to use Facebook and making sure I write at least a page on the story every day no matter how bad my work day is. Maybe more so.

So- fear and happiness. Too much of one, and not enough of the other. I’m stuck between wanting out of The Day Job, wanting more time to write, and being equally scared of that happening. On the whole, I’ve done a pretty good job of suppressing the fear.

It’s only as I sit here untangling my feelings to write the blog post that I realise just how strong the fear is. I thought it was the unhappiness that was the issue, and I’d been telling myself off for not being happy now, for always looking to the future. But as I’m letting myself feel it, the fear is stronger.

Well, that kinda explains the knot in my stomach and the headaches and the trouble sleeping all week! How thick and blind to my own emotions can I be? 

The Day Job has been particular busy this week. Super-stressful and exhausting. I’m not happy.  So much so that this week, I’ve found myself thinking- “I’m not happy now, but once I quit this job, then I’ll be happy.”

I’ve always seen happiness as something that would happen in the future. When I moved out of my parents’ house. When I had my own home, not a room in the Nurses Home. When I had a different job. When I was married. When I had a baby. Now it’s When I have a story published. When I quit the Day Job. When I can make my living from writing. When I move back to Australia.

Always looking for something outside of me to make me happy. And guess what?

It doesn’t work like that.

There’s such a risk of letting myself be unhappy now because I still have to do the Day Job, to miss out on living in the present because I’m so focused on the future, telling myself THAT’S when I’ll be happy. And when I am published, when I am a full time writer, what then? Will that make me happy forever, or will I just find other things to be unhappy about?

I need to learn habits of happiness now. Happiness can’t be something that’s perpetually postponed to some perfect future.

I read a lot of different blogs yesterday about being happy, chaining from a post on Shannon McKinnon’s fabulous Happy Writer blog - How Can We Be Happily Unpublished.

 Shannon’s post is all about needing to be happy NOW. How so many of us have the illusion we’ll be happy once we’re published. How being published won’t make us happy for long if we don’t build habits of happiness now.

As she says-

The problem is that by thinking we can’t be happy until we get somewhere other than where we are is that we miss all the happiness along the way.

 Her series is worth reading. She gives a whole blog post worth of tips about being happy as an unpublished writer. Deciding it’s more important to be happy than published. Being mindful of the day to day- focusing on the little achievements we make each day, even if all we managed was to show up at the page and write one good sentence. To know we have value and worth as we are. To focus on the things that make us happy as a writer and stop doing the things that don’t. To know that being happy isn’t dependent on externals, it’s a choice we make, every day. All true.

I tell myself that. And then I feel like maybe I should just be happy now. Maybe I can be so happy I don’t need to leave the job. Maybe I can keep trying to balance job and writing and make it work. Because then I don’t have to deal with the fear of quitting, of the insecurity of not having a job and a steady income.

I don’t think that’s Shannon meant! She’s not saying that the recipe for happiness is putting a Band-Aid on our unhappiness and denying it exists. Being happy now is not an excuse for settling for less than we can be, for letting fear stop us following our dreams.  It’s not a fake telling ourselves things are okay, to keep us where we are and stop us striving about more.

It’s being realistic about what that “more” can give us. Being realistic about where we are and what we are achieving right now.

Sometimes, unhappiness is a gift. It’s what drives us through our fears. That doesn’t mean we stay being unhappy. It means we look at what the unhappiness is telling us.

Mine is telling me I need control in my life, but I’m fearful of changing. Fearful of quitting my job, of losing that security. I’m in full fight or flight mode. Part of me wants to leave work sooner, doesn’t see how I’ll get through seven whole months of things being this bad at work, of pushing writing to the periphery. Part of me is terrified. That part is sometimes shrieking and sometimes whimpering that I’ll never get such a good job again.

 It’s true. When I leave this job, I don’t think I will ever have a job that will pay this well again. And it’s unlikely I’ll make this much from writing. Realistically, I think the most I can hope to make from writing is the bare survival minimum.

I tell myself that will be enough. I have a big cushion of savings. I’m not jumping blind hoping there will be a safety net. I’m building the safety net before I jump.

I’m still scared.

I make myself focus on the benefits- that when I quit the Day Job I will be more in control of my life, not my boss and my patients and anyone else who decides to call or email or come into the office wanting something done. The jobs in my life I’ve liked the least, are the ones where I have little control. Where it’s furiously treading water just to stay afloat, dealing with what gets thrown at me from all directions.  The jobs I’ve enjoyed the most were the ones where I got to structure my days and my time use. Maybe someone else set the goals, but it was up to me how I met them. I want that again, except more so.

I want to be able to set my own goals and meet them. My current work situation is so far away from that it’s laughable. I know life doesn’t always feel so under control for published writers. There are deadlines and revisions and proofs that arrive today and need to be sent back tomorrow. Not one of us, even the most Alphaed up billionaire romance hero, lives a life totally under personal control.

I can tell myself all that, focus on the benefits, but the fear’s still there. The fear of crashing and burning. Of trying and failing. Of spending all my money chasing this dream and not being able to achieve other dreams I could have used those savings on. The house in Australia, the garden, the life I imagine I will have there.

Which brings me full circle, back to the things I think will make me happy. The fear and the unhappiness are linked.

I read this article on dealing with fear, and took it a step further. What I need to look at is what the real need is underneath those things I think will make me happy. What the real thing is I’m afraid of losing.

Just like for characters. They have a surface goal- keep the family home safe from the property developer, make their business a success, have a red sports car, whatever. But that’s not enough to write a story from. That’s not really what they want. The inner need, the motivation, is what they really need and fear losing. The heroine wants to save her family home from developers because she needs a sense of home and belonging to give her security, and she’s afraid of losing that. Or she needs her business to be a success because that will show everyone who told her she’d never amount to much as a kid that she can make it- she needs self-worth and acceptance, and fears getting confirmation she is the failure they told her she’d be.

My fear comes from the same place as my unhappiness. The fear is that I’ll never get what I really need to make me happy, and that I’ll lose what happiness I have. 

Quitting up my job will give me a lot. But it also means giving up things I need, on a very deep level. Security. Getting feedback that I am doing well. A sense of self-worth and acceptance. Having a sense of who I am in the world. I know I am good at my job. I don’t know that I am good at writing.

So I latch onto the hope of publication, as so many other unpublished writers do. Publication is a biggie. it symbolises so many things.

The inner meaning many of us hang on publication is acceptance. Acceptance of our writing, and acceptance of us as writers. Finally being told we are good enough. Especially important for those of us who may have been put down for our writing or told we couldn’t write well enough to make a living from it. The word is even there in the language of publishing- our story is “accepted” by an editor. But being unpublished doesn’t necessarily mean we’re less of a writer.

Publication also means being paid for our writing. For me, that is a first step to making my living from writing. The deeper meaning of that is getting that control I want over how I use my time.

I think those are the two main things I’m looking for. The two things I need to be happy. Acceptance, starting with self-acceptance. And a kind of freedom, the freedom that comes from self-control, discipline and setting my own goals. Which loops back around to a sense of achievement when I reach those goals, which also ties in to self-acceptance.

And so acceptance is the biggie for me.

I’ve been paid for writing before. I’ve had two articles published, one when i was sixteen, another when i was thirty eight. I’ve been “accepted”. but they were articles, not stories. The stories are closer to the truth of who I am. The articles were more like essays for school, it was nice getting paid for them but it didn’t mean anything about the truth of me as a writer. They weren’t created from my mind and heart and guts.

That’s where I really want acceptance. And it’s too much to hang on a fragile novella or category romance or single title story.

I need to find that self-acceptance first, or every rejection will feel like a catastrophe. Even a revision letter will feel like a devastating personal criticism. And as for bad reviews- don’t even go there!

Publication won’t fix what I want it to fix.

Only I can fix that. That’s the real truth Shannon is talking about. I need a self-acceptance that’s separate from my writing. And I need to see that writing well or not so well has nothing to do with getting published.

Jennifer Cruisie wrote-

What’s important in our lives… is not our publishing status but our writing, putting the story on the page, breathing life into the characters, making sure what we write is so true that it reaches somebody’s heart. Perfecting our craft and our art should be our first obsession; the publication we sometimes earn when we’ve mastered writing should come second.

 That’s what I want. And now is the time to start, before I lay myself on the line any further. No wonder I’ve been procrastinating on writing, putting off having something completed to submit. When acceptance for publication is our sole criteria for whether we are “good enough”, rejection cuts into the soul, into our very sense of who we are as a person.

Some practical advice on how to deal with that now-

Start with today, not yesterday.
Over the past few years, I have been very hard on myself for taking so long to plunge into my writing and never look back. I decided not that long ago to only focus on the moment at hand, not on what I didn’t do but should have, and not on how long it will take me to get to a comfortable place in my writing career. Focusing on today’s agenda and today’s only will keep your frustration and uncertainty at bay. As you begin making consistent steps forward, your motivation will continually build, and the disappointment you feel will become a thing of the past (and stay there).

If I don’t do this now, just focus on that page of writing I produce today, then no matter what else I do, no matter how many stories I get published, it won’t make me happy. 

And as a bonus, writing this gave me insight into my last rejected story and the fact I hadn’t noticed that the heroine had no GMC!

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Author: Autumn Macarthur

Autumn is an Australian writer of sweet inspirational home and family themed romance, who now lives in the UK just north of London with one very English husband, three seriously spoiled cats, and a sumo-sized guinea pig. As well as writing, she loves to thrift, sew (badly!), grow plants, make raw vegan food, and give thanks to God for all His blessings!

10 thoughts on “Dealing with fear and unhappiness – being published won’t fix everything

  1. I’ve been earning my living as a writer since 1976 and have commercially published two non-fiction books.

    With all due respect to the tremendous yearning for approval and acceptance I read here, getting published is NOT some great door into a sun-filled world where everything is so much better all the time. It’s not! I scramble hard every single day to earn the four figures I need every month to meet all my basic costs. I have been through six agents and written more than four unsold book proposals. My current agent has proven effective in some ways and deeply disappointing in others. I have writer friends who, much younger, out-sell and out-earn me.

    I awoke yesterday morning to a google alert of a Goodreads review of my new book that began; “Wow. This book is really boring.” Oh, yeah, total strangers will trash your skill and hard work for….amusement.

    Do it and I wish you lots of success. But don’t attach so much ego to it or it will truly crush you.

    • Thanks so much for your comment, Caitlin. I will check out your blog some more, as you sound like someone I can learn a lot from. You write very cleanly and powerfully.

      But oops, looks like I need to go back and clarify my post!

      What I wanted to say was that putting so much emphasis on getting my stories published has paralysed me in the past and I need to get free of that. It’s my mindset I need to change.

      Publication isn’t a magic wand that will make me happy. I need to find self-acceptance and happiness now, or publication won’t do it for me. If I can’t, then every bad review and negative reader comment (and I know thay happen, even to the best writers) will knock me flat.

      In fact, if I treated publication as the measure of being okay as a writer and a person, I’d be made! I am “published”, with two paid for non-fiction articles, as well as some in-house software guides.
      But I take on board what you are saying. I need an odd kind of two way emotional boot-camp in the next seven months. I have to develop a tougher skin to ride the challenges, the rejections, the slings and arrows that I know are certainly coming. Yet I also need to be more able to be more emotionally honest and tap into my feelings, including deeply painful ones, to write fiction with the level of emotional intensity I want.

      BTW I’m sure you know i=this already, but I sure sounds like the person who made the unhelpful comment about your book probably wasn’t part of your target audience.

      When I wrote a 350 page software training manual for a previous employer, the brief was to pitch it so someone with minimal levels of IT literacy could pick up the guide, work their way through it, and be able to use the software. Literally, I was asked to start with how to turn the computer on and log in!

      Over half the students loved the guide, commented how helpful it was and how much they valued the detailed explanations and all the screenshots. Inevitably, the rest of the users, the students who came in who a higher level of computer skills, absolutely hated it, complained about the level of detail, and commented in evaluation how bored they were by it.

      Also meant to add- I know some of my posts get a bit overwrought at times. That’s why I tag the worst excesses “being a drama queen”!

  2. This is a great post, Autumn! I’m so glad The Happy Writer could help you with this emotional honesty a little bit. I think you’re totally on the right track!

  3. I think it helps to change your focus. Instead of keeping your eyes up on that shimmering mirage of PUBLICATION LAND…look in the mirror and/or at your friends next to you.

    Write for you, write for them. Have fun. Make your goal to just write the best book you can at this point in your life. Join a group and let someone read your stuff–laugh about it together.

    If you can just avoid putting a condition on your happiness (as in published= I am a talented, accepted “Real” writer and unpublished=wannabe loser) you will be much much happier.

    Realize of course, I’m reminding myself of this as much as I am you. I had a break-up with writing that lasted for years because I’d gotten to the point where getting published had become so important, that the writing wasn’t fun anymore.

    This time around, it’s still there of course…that pressure…the temptation to make “getting published” into some litmus test of my self worth. But now that I know the danger, I’m working hard to stay keep away from that whole mess. I will send out my book when it’s ready…and I will be disappointed if it never finds a home, but I hope that I will remember that, the part of writing that makes me happy is telling the stories–not selling the stories.

    Great post, Autumn–(btw, I found you via a post by Shannon on FB.)

    • Thanks for visiting, Melissa!

      I love the way you say this-

      If you can just avoid putting a condition on your happiness (as in published= I am a talented, accepted “Real” writer and unpublished=wannabe loser) you will be much much happier.

      Oh, I know that wannabee loser feeling too well! Every rejection letter. Every story I hold back from submitting because I know I haven’t cracked it this time, either. Not even close.

      Right now, my goal is to forget about publication and just write wild. Play with words, with characters, with situations. I’m seriously considering a submissions embargo for the rest of the year, so I just write for fun. Except I half suspect that’s more a cop out to avoid more rejections than a genuine good strategy.

      I’m still being too “nice” in my writing, and making my characters be nice too. I realised today that is why I’m so bored with my current story. It’s feeling like a chore to write. My characters want to be upset and angry and uncooperative and wallow in their misery a bit until the other one gives them a good shake. Instead, they are being polite. They are helping each other. They are like good but dull boys and girls. The story is flat and lifeless, as intersting reading as that 350 page software manual I wrote. A completly conflict free zone.

      I’m starting over from page one. This time, the characters can do and say what they want. I can always rein them in when I edit.

      The paradox is, the less I worry about publication, the better I will write.

      I hope at the end of however long I can afford to give myself of full time writing I’ll be earning some money from it. But I hope even more that I will have had a year of fun, of learning, and of playing with stories.

  4. take a look at this link–(not safe for work, btw). The part where he talks about torturing characters is true true true. You gotta make them SUFFER! Nobody wants to read about polite happy people!! :-)

    http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2012/02/07/25-reasons-that-writers-are-bug-fuck-nuts/

    • Thanks for reminding me to read Chuck! I kinda overdosed on his blog posts a while back, but it’s way past time I rediscovered him.

      He’s scarily accurate. Plus so funny I nearly wet myself (menopause gives laughing that nasty side effect).

      Definitely some character torture called for. I think I’ll give the severed heads and the incident with the Roomba a miss though. Mine are both having very bad days, and I need to have them make each other’s day worse not better.

      Don’t be so fracking helpful, Tom. Throw the empty whisky bottle at her head instead when she comes asking for help!

  5. I hate that thing I do sometimes. “I’ll be happy when…” It’ll be better if…”

    It’s so pointless to sit around and hope and wait for things to change. It’s fruitless and it makes me crazy. I’m really trying to focus on enjoying the journey — wherever it takes me, however long it takes.

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