Writing Brings Out the Worst In Me
It's a difficult thing: deciding whether a career is good for you. If there's no glamour in it, we wonder why we aren't chasing our dreams. If there's no money in it, we enviously scroll through facebook pictures of friends with newly minted graduate degrees. If there's glitz and money in it, but no chicken soup for the soul ... well, frankly, I wouldn't know what that's like. But, I can imagine those people also can feel there's something better out there.
The trick is to analyze unhappiness. Am I unhappy because I am doing something that goes against the grain of my disposition (or even dignity), or am I just getting acquainted with good, old-fashioned hard work? That was the question I had to ask myself when I quit teaching full time. I was forced to ask myself whether I was drawing closer to God by quitting or whether I was just plain too soft for a 9 to 5 ... well, more like 7:30 to 6.
So far, I can honestly say that teaching was good for me. It was really, really good for me. That is why I continue to teach any chance I get. It was training, just like trying to be an actor was training before that, and performing improv comedy was training before that. I doubt I'll ever perform in a troupe again, but I sure as heck needed to be quick on my feet in the classroom. I probably won't be sitting in a teacher review anytime soon, but I can tell you that kind of criticism was a piece of cake compared to having my writing critiqued.
Different phases of my life have magnified different flaws and forced me to improve upon them. You may be surprised to hear this, but sitting at home and writing day in and day out has probably stretched me the most. It has been a full-on battle ... with myself. I fend off demons every day. Here are just a few of those demons.
1. Self-confidence. I mean, I knew I was no Meryl Streep in this category to begin with, but I have since learned that I am much worse than that; I'm a regular Sally Field.
Only a small handful of people have read sizable chunks of my manuscript. Only one has read the whole thing. Even the slightest criticism of my work tends to send me into a spiral of despair. Even beyond the manuscript, I refused to tell anyone that I was even writing the book until a few months ago. I was terrified of the look on people's faces when they discovered that I was a frail, fool-hardy leech living off of my husband's salary and unable even to hold down a teaching job for a respectable amount of time. Talk about a lazy, head-in-the-clouds freeloader!
All of those things are totally true, of course, but acquaintances at cocktail parties are not allowed to think it while looking at me. That's my dad's job.
2. Work Ethic. Oh boy, is this a daily struggle. I mean, I'm no bum. I've never been to Jackson Hole, and I've never spent a month finding myself in an Asian country. I went to good schools and got good grades. But none of that prepared me for months of wide-open days that I have to structure myself. I almost never get up when the alarm clock goes off. The temptation to nap on the daily is OVERWHELMING (though, fortunately, rarely succumbed to). I have four supernaturally adorable nieces who I could potentially see every day all day. Two of them have lisps, people. Could you resist that for all but one day a week? Could you?!
I am a list-maker. I am a clean freak. I am a guilt-a-holic. All these things coupled with lots and lots of free time equals quite a few melt downs. The biggest hurdle is to intend to write for a million hours and get into bed at the end of a very busy day, only to realize that I was not able to write a single word. How can dusting the house and cleaning the bathroom possibly take up an entire afternoon? Apparently it does when I do it.
Working from home is an occasion for a dizzying assortment of slothful temptations. I've learned simply to resist relaxation if I haven't earned it yet, but also to make peace with the day no matter what and resolve to be better in the next.
3. Patience. I had no idea how bad I was at patience until I tried to be a writer. First of all ... um DUH this book is taking forever. I wrote the first four chapters between 2009 and 2012. Even when I started writing in earnest, I thought I'd have this sucker polished and ready for agents by January ... as in, almost six months ago January. It is now the end of May, and I still am weeks and weeks away from that goal. Maybe months! I hope not years. Please, Lord, I don't think I could handle that.
When people ask me how the book is coming, all I can say is, "It's coming!" I'm working every day on it. I've got piles and piles of edited pages, notes, maps, character descriptions, agent lists, articles about how to get published, and books. So many books. I'm working on it, OK YOU GUYS? But I know all a person hears is, "Eh, it's probably not going to happen." That's hard. It's hard to keep my vanity in check and just allow someone to think that I am just another artsy-fartsy, wayward wife with a pipe dream. But that is their prerogative. They don't have to be patient for this book to get printed; I do.
The truth is, even if an agent wanted to sign with me tomorrow (most authors query dozens and dozens of agents before hitting a match or giving up altogether), it would be another two years at least before the book is for sale. Yeah. We're talking serious patience testing, here.
How do I deal? One of the first things my husband had me do was memorize the Terese of Avila Prayer. Other than that, I do my best to concentrate on doing the next right thing. I'll be honest, though: I'm just plain bad at patience.
4. Forgiveness. This one might not sound particularly relevant to a writer, but in the last year I have really had to take an honest look at how I treat my loved ones, particularly when I feel wronged.
Maybe it's something about being alone so much that puts my relationships under a microscope. While my friends and family are working or raising children all day, I'm sitting at home brooding over our last interaction. They've got very immediate problems to solve or tasks to accomplish, while I'm sitting in front of a computer screen without a boss or a toddler looking over my shoulder. I can over-analyze an exchange or expect too much quality time from friends who are juggling demanding careers.
Forget current relationships, I have enough time and lack of distraction to think about past relationships, and therefore to remember past injuries. Oh yeah, that person did really hurt my feelings that time! Ugh, I am feeling that hurt all over again ...
I know; Crazytown. But I am an ENFJ, which means my thoughts turn dark when I'm left alone too long. Like, all day every day for eleven months. Imagine what I'd be thinking if I didn't have a dog placing toys in my lap every ten minutes. This could be worse.
But writing full-time has actually given me an opportunity to practice forgiving. Sometimes I have to forgive the same person for the same thing several times in one day, which is totally fine! 7 times 77, am I right? It frees me from the evils of living in the past while building up a more understanding approach to my relationships. The more I forgive my loved ones, the more I realize that I am constantly being forgiven for the wrongs I commit (I'm looking at you, Husband Hill).
This career (or attempt at a career) is challenging me. I suffer for it, but the suffering is productive. It is worthwhile. Even if TESS AND THE TRINKET never hits the shelves and I have to write six more novels before one gets published, at least I'm becoming a better person. Thanks be to God!