Are we having fun yet?

by Toni McGee Causey

30,439 minutes.

That’s how long I have ’til I turn in this book.

30,439 minutes.

And the story. Wow. Living, breathing, bearing down on me, playing live in front of my eyes.

I might be looking right at you. I probably don’t see you. I’m seeing the story. I’m pretty sure I’ve changed clothes within the last couple of days. I think.

A few people said, "You have how much to write in the next three weeks?" One writer friend wrote to me that she knew how I felt with a story staring at me with blood in its eye.

30,438 minutes.

I cannot explain to you the joy. The absolute utter explosion of high that comes from being in this place in the story and knowing that it works and not really caring about the deadline because I’m having fun. [For the record, I don’t always feel this way at this point in the story. Sometimes, that never comes. Sometimes, I only know that feeling about the time the book has been out for a couple of months and I look back and think, huh, that worked there for that little space, wow, who knew?]

Now, a lot of the times here, we’re talking about craft and marketing and what to do or not do and how to sing the hokey pokey with one foot in while you’re turning around, your hand on your head, fingers crossed in a special voodoo spell, hoping to appease the publishing gods, but sometimes, I think, we all get a little caught up in the angst of the business, all keep your hands inside the vehicle at all times and no standing that we forget what’s really important.

This is supposed to be fun.

I’ve done hard. [minds out of the gutter]

I’ve worked three jobs, making ends meet. I’ve had a baby and gone back to work the next day, because that’s what it took. I’ve scrubbed toilets as a janitor [and for the record, and retroactively to the lady who worked for the state who constantly threw those little circles punched from a three-hole-puncher–the vacuum did not pick those up, so thank you for making me have to stop and get down on my knees when I was eight months pregnant to pick them up because you wanted to be sure I was doing my job]… I’ve made cold calls as an insurance salesman, I’ve wrecked concrete forms, I’ve cooked for crews, I’ve stood in front of a classroom as a grad student and taught Nietzsche and Heidegger, I’ve watched a friend die a bloody death from leukemia, I’ve lost people, I’ve watched a child hooked up to an IV in the hospital, not knowing if he was going to have brain damage from the infection, and I’ve been dealt personal blows that had me sitting in the dark, wondering if I could keep standing, and I am here to tell you, this writing thing? Utter flipping joy.

I’m betting you’ve done hard, too. I’m betting you have life issues pressing down on you, that you’re busy, hellified busy, that somewhere, some of you are hurting and some of you have lost something and some of you feel a little bludgeoned and a whole lot overwhelmed, and somewhere, one of you is wondering why you’re fooling yourself that you’re a writer.

Do you love telling stories? Do you enjoy the spark of the new idea, the look when you sum it up for someone? The hope that this time, you’ll share that dream you’ve had? The pleasure of a nice turn of phrase, of seeing something on the page that you wrought and realized, wow, that was successful, that sentence right there. And maybe that one over there?

Embrace that. Few people in this world have figured out what brings them joy and you’re lucky if you’ve found it. The joy has to be in the process, in the day-to-day, because those are the moments we live. Not the end results. We don’t live there. We live in the process, in the effort. It’s what we control.

It’s easy to be scared in this business. It’s easy to get caught up on the treadmill, and just about every author has had moments of intense fear and doubt. You have the opportunity to humiliate yourself nationally. And if you’re being honest, you’re putting something of yourself on those pages, something of what you know to be the truth, and there’s just no way around that fact, no matter how much of it’s fiction. If you’re doing it right, you’re putting yourself in there. A lot of times, when we focus on all of the details of the writing process, it can feel like the list grows exponentially until you’re weighed down, ground to pieces. In all of the marketing bullshit, the networking, the learning curve, we can forget to celebrate the joy. (And we’re all learning, we’re all looking around, grateful to be in this with fellow writers who are willing to extend a hand and say, "This is what worked for me, this is what failed," because this is a scary, big, puzzle.)

You have to love this to do it. No, that’s not quite right. You have to be insane and in love with the whole notion of telling stories to do this. To keep working through the story, to get it right, to get the words strung out just so, so that they touch the other person on the other end. You have to feel the joy from the right detail, from the moment when it comes together, from the dream.

And you have to take a moment, when you’re writing, to remember that joy, to remember why you’re writing.

Publishing isn’t for sissies. It’s one of the cruelest forms of self-abuse I’ve seen, because there’s just no way to make everyone happy all of the time. You’re going to be putting yourself out there for people to judge, for people to criticize, for people to think you’re absolutely a moron for trying, but if you love it? It really doesn’t matter, because there is just nothing else quite like it.

We tell stories to connect. From the ancient times of sitting around the campfire, from Beowulf to the Dark Knight, we sit around the campfire now, sharing the world. It’s how we know how other people live, feel, think, how they deal (or don’t) with what life throws at them. It’s what makes us human. Politics? Nope, even monkeys have it. Stories? That’s our gift from the universe, our ability to say to someone, somewhere, "hey you, I know just how you feel." To reach into that spot where they’re feeling like there is absolute darkness and share it, or bring them some light, or some laughter, or some feeling of justice. And it’s a gift given to us, the storytellers, not that it’s our gift back to the world, because really connecting? Moving other people? If we get lucky enough to manage that, what an incredible joy.

When I got married, my dad had one piece of advice. We did the typical father-daughter chat the day before, and I don’t know if he remembers it as clearly as I do, and I know there were probably a thousand things he wanted to tell me in that moment, that one quiet moment we had before the chaos began. And he said, very simply, "Keep it fun."

Keep.

Active verb there. Don’t wait for it to be fun. Don’t expect fun to come to you, gift wrapped. Keep. Work for it. Look for it. Make it.

Best advice I’ve ever gotten.

30,425 minutes.

And I am incredibly grateful for every single one.

So how about you? What brings you joy?

21 thoughts on “Are we having fun yet?

  1. Alexandra Sokoloff

    What a great and hugely important post, Toni. RIGHT – it’s supposed to be fun.

    I’ve been pretty dismally sick since I caught a vicious flu at RWA, and last night Michael had some radio station on and the Spinners’ “It’s a Shame” came on and it was so great and as you say, joyous, that I jumped out of bed and just danced. And I swear I’m (almost) healed. Try it!

    Original song:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XHXFOUQBRHE&feature=related

    Recent live performance:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H7T1v3DxgKg&feature=related

    I meed to dance more. That’s always the answer for me.

    Re: writing, no matter how hard it gets, what keeps me going is the unbelievable rush of FINISHING – when you sit down to read a book you never thought would come together and discover to your utter amazement that it’s not only an actual book, but it’s really, really good.

    Reply
  2. R.J. Mangahas

    30, 424 left now Toni, but hey, who’s counting?

    There are different little things that bring me joy. Of course writing was one of them. Maybe a good book or movie to relax with. Or how about knowing that maybe a small favor I did for someone helped them out.

    One of the biggest things that brought me joy was something that arose out of hardship. Two years ago, I discovered I was a diabetic. That wasn’t the hard part. The hard part was that it effected my vision to the point that I lost my job, couldn’t drive, and (worst of all) couldn’t see well enough to write. Fortunately, I was recommended to a specialist by the name of Michael Morley who dealt specifically with my problem. I should note here that this person is one of the nicest people you could ever hope to meet. He went out of his way to help me with my issues.

    Now two years (and five eye procedures) later, I can see well enough again to drive and of course write. This doctor literally restored my vision (both physically and in my writing), and I’ll always be grateful for that. (He’s even a character in my WIP).

    You can only imagine the joy I got from that. I think I cried because I was so relieved. And because of it, I have learned to really appreciate things, not take things for granted, and most importantly here, to find joy in even the smallest things.

    Reply
  3. Allison Brennan

    In life, the greatest joy I have is the joy in children, especially mine. When they discover something new, or marvel at something ordinary. Some people call it innocence, but I think it’s more the belief that anything is possible. The spontaneous hugs and I-love-yous are nice, too πŸ™‚

    In writing, I’m always reminded about what my oldest daughter said after I quit my day job to write full-time. This was back in early 2005 when she was 11, I had no books on the shelf, and quitting was a huge risk, but one I was willing to take even knowing that I would have to come crawling back to my old boss and beg for a job (my old one wouldn’t be there waiting for me) if my books failed. I took a leap of faith and quit, cut expenses hugely, refinanced the house to lower monthly expenses, and paid myself a “salary” from my advance. I bought nothing extravagant–only a kitchen table that could seat 8 since the one we had was a hand-me-done that sat 4. And I bought it at a huge clearance sale at 60% off. But I was living my dream: telling stories full-time.

    My daughter said, “I’ve never seen you this happy.”

    Reply
  4. Jake Nantz

    I’ve just recently found joy in coaching again. Not in head coaching, and all the headaches and unrealistic parents and unsupportive ADs and the complete time drains that come with it, but just in helping the HC. In getting out there with the kids a few days a week, running them throu8gh drills that make them better, and watching them realize and enjoy that they ARE getting better. That’s become a joy again.

    As far as writing, it’s a joy when I’m in the story, but I’ve gotten so frozen by fear that it’s not going to be any good and that I’ve “wasted” all this time (I know it’s a learning experience, but it’s tough to actually know that this thing I poured my heart into will probably die a lonely death in the closet). So when I’m writing, the act is a joy. But the expectations (or the hope) of publication is kind of a killjoy. So it’s slow going, but at least it hasn’t ground to a complete stop.

    Reply
  5. Jake Nantz

    Although, I did get my first non-form rejection for a flash piece I wrote the other night. Disappointing that it wasn’t an acceptance, sure. But it’s the first time I’ve had anyone in the industry say it wasn’t right for our ezine, but it was well-written. I’ll take that encouragement as a joy.

    Reply
  6. pari

    Toni,Thanks for the reminder today. Joy is a big part of my life . . . I actively find it, embrace it, and work to be ever grateful for it.

    As a result, there are many things that bring me joy —reading with my children-cooking/baking something special (I sound so matronly)-DANCING,-the feeling AFTER I’ve worked out intensely-taking walks-talking with friends-being immersed in the writing-having the quiet to be immersed in writing-taking small trips out of town by myself for book events (everything from the drive and seeing all this gorgeous NM to blasting the radio and singing at the top of my lungs)-walking my younger daughter to school each morning and seeing her emerge from class in the afternoon-hugging

    Okay . . . you get the idea. Like you, I’ve done a lot of “hard” in my life. A few years ago, I decided that I needed to find joy everywhere to keep myself grateful.

    Reply
  7. J.D. Rhoades

    *stands on chair**Applauds*

    BRAVO! BRAVO!

    That was a great post, and yes, it brought me joy.

    And it’s a very timely reminder that I need to get back to the things that bring me joy: hanging with my kids. Reading. Playing guitar. WRITING. I’ve been “between projects” the past few weeks, since I just turned STORM SURGE in and I’ve been restless and out of sorts ever since.

    Thanks for the kick in the ass.

    Reply
  8. billie

    The look on my son’s face yesterday when he told me they’re having a WWII rifle competition at the range this afternoon.

    My daughter on her new bike, red hair sailing behind her like a flag.

    Sitting in the back field with my writing partner at midnight, talking book structure with glasses of wine, surrounded by horses and a donkey and a gorgeous moon on the rise.

    Coming home last night at 1 a.m., having read the first 30 pages of my novel out loud and being so energized I plugged my laptop in and started typing.

    Riding Keil Bay, who feels so good these days he is jumping me over trot poles. I hadn’t jumped in 25 years and a week ago he taught me I can still soar.

    Mystic, the new kitten, with his toy stuffed mouse clutched in his tiny teeth, like he’s captured a dragon.

    And, of course, your blog post. What a joy for a Sunday morning, Toni. Thank you.

    Reply
  9. Toni

    I really needed to read this today; thank you! When I’m not procrastinating by reading blogs, I’m working on writing that only occasionally brings me joy but pays the bills (solvency–now THAT brings me joy!), but I allow myself regular “breaks” to open up the Word doc with my novel in it. Joy, joy, joy.

    The part about the process being the joyful part? Total frying pan to the back of the head for me (uh, in a good way. No, really.) Here’s why: whenever I see my byline in a magazine, I often feel . . . numb. I feel proud of the effort and all, but it’s fleeting and then it’s over. Been there, done that, cashed the check–what’s next? Lather, rinse, repeat. But when I get the gig or do the research or start building the article, that *process* brings me joy (but not at the same level that fiction does).

    With fiction writing, the joy is greater, just as is the risk of failure, I suppose. Fiction writing also often leaves me feeling full of doubt and questions, like “what sane person would read this, let alone enjoy it or (gulp) pay me for it?” or “Man, there’s so much information on fiction writing out there, if I spend all my time reading it, I’ll never get any work done!”

    But I always continue on with this deep sense that I’m supposed to have fun doing it, that I’d still write even if nobody ever paid me to do so again. And every time I open that one Word doc, my heart races just a bit faster, and I know I’m doing exactly what I’m supposed to be doing, and I won’t get there if I don’t keep going AND if I don’t have fun along the way.

    Reply
  10. Tammy Cravit

    What a wonderful, and timely, post. I’ve been grappling with the good and the bad this weekend — my best friend, who’s in the military, and her family left yesterday to accept a new assignment that will keep her 2,000 miles away for the next four years. The assignment will be great for her, career-wise, both over its duration and when she retires from military service at its conclusion, but it was still a very bittersweet parting. Her family and mine have seen each other through some pretty rough times.

    But even as rotten as it feels right now, I realize that I’d do it all over again, because my life is richer with her in it — even at a distance — than it would have been without her. So, what brings me joy? My friends, my family, the slow progression out of a career I hate and into a combination of activities (writing, photography, photojournalism) that nourishes my soul and makes me excited to get out of bed each morning once again.

    Granted, I expect at least another year to go by before I can make the leap to quitting my other line of work, but the light at the end of the tunnel makes all the difference. And each time I sit down at the computer to write, that light gets just a little bit brighter.

    Reply
  11. Jami Alden

    Great post Toni – I need such an attitude adjustment as I’m poised to dive into the next book. So what if I only have (gulp) 39 working days to write the next book (that’s 13 weeks, 3 kid free days a week where I can actually work). But it’s going to be fun, right? RIGHT????

    Reply
  12. toni mcgee causey

    Jami, it will be. You’re going to hit that stage where you’re in love again, and it’s going to be such a high.

    Thanks, everyone, for all your wonderful comments yesterday. Such a joy to be a part of this group.

    Reply
  13. ZoΓ« Sharp

    Hi Toni

    I know it’s a bit late to add a comment, but we’ve been away, so I get to it when I can.

    Reading your writing is always a joy ;-]

    One last quote:

    ‘Dance like no-one is watchingLove like you’ve never been hurtSing like no-one is listeningLive like heaven on earth.’Mark Twain

    Reply

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