That’s how long I have ’til I turn in this book.
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.
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."
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.
And I am incredibly grateful for every single one.
So how about you? What brings you joy?