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!