Last Thursday, I began a two-month contract to help the Albuquerque Youth Symphony with a three-day alumni reunion. The work involved sits squarely with much of my former professional skill set in PR. Ladies and gentleman, I know how to put on an event. (That’s probably why I didn’t get hives or balk at chairing LCC Santa Fe.)
But starting a job out of the house – even though it’s short-term – is playing emotional havoc with my image of myself as a writer, as a professional writer. The fact that I don’t have a book in the publishing pipeline, and might not for who knows how long, isn’t helping.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m still writing. I’m actually more productive now than I’ve been in many years past. I’m sending out short stories, writing freelance articles. But do I have the right to call myself a “professional writer” when that production isn’t supporting me, isn’t paying for my kids’ tuition at a pricey private school, isn’t resulting in new books with covers you can see on the side of this blog?
I don’t know . . .
Many of the authors I know work full-time at other jobs. They carve time out at night and in the early morning hours to keep their fiction going. I’m going to have to learn how to do that again, to balance it all in a way that I haven’t done for fourteen years. (How did Allison and so many others do it for all those years?)
I’m not whining here. My priority – my children’s education – is right where it should be. I’m also incredibly grateful to have this consultant job. It’s fun; I enjoy most of the tasks. It’s nice to be out of my home, having contact with all kinds of people, doing something I’m very good at. Feeling confident and making money at the same time.
But creatively it feels like I’m going backward, like everyone around me is jumping to full-time writing. And here I am, going in the opposite direction.
Somehow that feels like a defeat . . . like I’ve failed.
So today I’d love some perspective, a way to frame it so that I stop beating myself up. I’m sure many of you, dear ‘Rati, have had similar times in your life when you have had to readjust your self-image after years of going in one particular direction.
Please, share your experiences with me. Your comments always illuminate in such positive and thoughtful ways.
Stop beating yourself up about it!
I still work as a photographer as well as a writer. I love the job. It’s outdoor, often very physical (I’ve broken ribs twice in the last two years) and most importantly it makes me concentrate on other things while the subconscious part of my brain mulls over the latest bit of plot or story. I’ve had more "Eureka!" moments in the car on the way to or from shoots, than I ever have sitting banging my head against my computer screen.
Besides anything else, photography is an integral part of my husband’s non-fiction writing. If I gave it up, he’d have to find another photographer to work with, and he’d be on the road a lot with that other person. One of the advantages of us working together is the amount of time we get to spend together. Why would I want to mess that up?
And it takes some of the stress out of writing. If I have a shitty day, I know in the back of my mind that there’s always the photography. If I have a rotten shoot – like last week when it was lashing it down and blowing umbrellas inside out and I couldn’t keep the lens dry to save my life – I calm myself with the thought of my writing. (OK, so it didn’t stop me swearing a LOT at the time.)
It’s all about balance.
Not currently published. May never get published. Struggling with the start of book two while book one’s synopsis ages enough so I can look at it with fresh eyes. Schedule is insane with stuff and at the end of the year, there’s always a crapload of one-offs (kids conference, kid’s concert, meeting about this, synchro gala). Family in town. Have something after work every night for the next nine nights and 11 of the next twelve. Gotta feed the Florida Writers Conference blog every day and start building the day-long social networking session I committed to in October.
And then I’m supposed to be able to write something decent?
Sometimes all of it seems like too much. Inevitably something happens to help nudge me back toward the goal, but it’s difficult.
Pari, I know EXACTLY how you feel. Everything non-writerly’s going…well, not great, but better than last year, business at the day job’s picking up, and it looks like we’re going to be able to swing The Boy’s first year of college, at least.
On the writing front, yes, I’m still doing it, but gettng that old familiar string of very nice "this is really good, but…" rejections. Sometimes I wish they’d just say "this sucks, this guy can’t write, don’t ever send us any of his crap again," so at least I’d know it was hopeless and I could start making my peace with it. But this…this is torture. Especially after having had some stuff published and well received and getting to live the writer’s traveling life for a while. I had a brief tantalizing taste of the life I want to live and then had it yanked away. "Sorry, pal, not for you."
I’ve got a terrific agent who really believes in my work, there are some interesting nibbles on the line that could pan out into something really great, and while I’m occasionally suffering crises of confidence over the current WIP (what my friends over at the First Offenders blog once dubbed "Itotallysuckitis"), I’m generally happy with what I’m writing. So all I can do is put my head down and keep going.
Keep the faith, baby. Everyone who gives up makes it harder for the rest of us to keep going.
Thank you. I know it’s about balance but haven’t found that place yet. It’s early days and this is only a small job — though it will be time consuming for these next two months — I just need to put it in a bigger perspective like you have.
I hear you. I think part of my current frustration is similar to yours in that everyday there’s something with the kids. Again, I WANT to do those things but in the past they didn’t bother me as much due to the fact that I did have time to write. Now? Not so much.
But don’t let this post of mine depress you. Please, don’t.
I’m not giving up. I think we’re in similar places except that I don’t have a long-term full time job . . . not yet. Keeping the faith is difficult at times, as you well know, and I guess this is just one of those times. That feeling of the dream being yanked away? Yeah, it’s like that. At least right now.
My "day job" is as a freelance writer & when you combine that with the portion that is novel-writing, sometimes I wish I had an office to go to. My wife and I were just discussing this yesterday, having some unemployed friends, and how they seem to be rather picky about what they’re willing to do, limiting themselves, and I commented that some people just want to show up, get paid, and have benefits, etc., and don’t want to be on the gerbil wheel that having your own business entails. Don’t worry about it, you do what you have to do. We all do.
Considering that the average book sells hundreds or thousands, rather than millions or even tens of thousands, you have plenty of company, Pari. It’s downright difficult to support yourself–let alone put kids through college–on writing alone. You have to do what you have to do for YOUR own situation.
And besides, it’s all grist for the mill, isn’t it? Every experience adds to the richness of our personal store of writing material. Just mine it, is my advice.
I’ve got to admit what you say is true. One of the things I like about this contract job is that I’m working for someone else, not having to hassle with all the things I face in freelance. Go to work, enjoy the people you’re with, do a good job, go home . . .
See, Karen? That’s exactly the kind of perspective I was looking for: MINE IT. Nice. Thank you.
Identity is one of the things I wrestle with most each day. For 30+ years, despite lengthening stints in business jobs, I’ve thought of myself as a scholar and writer. Though I gave up on my dream of a PhD and tenure track job (for a variety of reasons – some very good) in my early 20s.
But, at 40, should I still be thinking of that as something I wanted and lost? Maybe I "think" I wanted it more than I really did and do?
In any case, now after years in business, with my writing eternally going sideways but starting to finally get where I’d like to see it be and opportunities to write and teach in my field opening up, I’m wresting with identity again – who and what am I now and who and what do I want to be?
I have no answers. I think that confusion or lack of an easy answer may come from trying to force ourselves into a point of view or answer that is false.
I say "mine it" (can’t tell you how many terrible days in the office I’ve declared tolerable because they were "material") and don’t be hard on yourself. Life isn’t a straight path for most of us, it’s a braided rope with a lot of coming and going and sideways movement.
Pari, this is a fantastic post and something I think about often. There is no certainty in publishing. It can change on a dime for anyone, no matter where you are in your career or how many bestsellers you have.
My balance when I was working full-time was compartmentalizing. My day job was my day job, my kid time was my kid time, my writing time was my writing time. But I didn’t work at home–that might have proved harder. In fact, it is harder as I think about how now my writing has leaked into everything. I think more on my books, take notes, clip magazine articles while waiting for the pediatrician, etc. Because there is so much more riding on my writing now than before, it has pretty much taken over my life. I don’t compartmentalize as well. There are pros and cons to that, but it is what it is.
One thing I try hard not to do (though sometimes it’s hard) is regret things I can not change. I’ve made lots of mistakes in my life and in publishing, but I try not to let the wrong or bad decisions depress me or regret so deeply I can’t move on. My mom, who I adore, invested in a small business when she retired from real estate. She had it for 3 years and ultimately, for a lot of reasons, it didn’t work. But she lost a lot of her retirement money. Now, nine years later, she still says things like, "If I never opened the store, I would have money in the bank" or "I wouldn’t be worried about things like new roofs" etc. She can’t get passed it. I finally had to tell her to stop, because it was affecting her sleep (still is, but she doesn’t talk to me anymore about it) and it was making her depressed. I’m sure she still talks to her best friend, though.
Dearest Pari (doesn’t rhyme with Mary)
When you have your full-time job, things will fall into place. Not magically, not immediately, not permanently. When my children were in elementary school, I didn’t work. Consequently, all the school and church jobs were given to me and my friends because "we had the time." And, again, consequently, we burned out.
Your full-time job will assist you in partitioning your time. You’ll also find you work at other things more efficiently. When I went back to work, I remembered sauntering through the aisles. After getting an "outside" job, I finished my shopping in half the time. And I learned to say no to things that I didn’t want to do or didn’t have the time to do. I stopped being all things to all people.
The kids are grown and out of the house with families of their own, I have a full-time job, and finding time to write is easier.
We all question, I believe, whether our writing is good enough to sell. I”s awfully difficult to survive with writing as a single source of income. Not impossisble. Difficult.
Go ahead and beat yourself up. We all do at times. But then accept yourself as the talented writer that you are. Like an apple ripening on a tree. Your time is approaching. Judy
Pari, no one can take the author title away from you. You ARE an author, and you always will be. But I remember back to when I found you – it wasn’t through your writing but through your PR. Bad Girls PR. You know the old saying, when God closes a door, He opens a window? This is a window that needs to be explored, for whatever reason.
Publishing is a fickle mistress at the best of times. During a recession, when the whole world has cut back, it can be deadly to careers. But keep the faith. Enjoy the time you have with the kids. Enjoy this new challenge. Continue making LCC incredible. Mine it, like everyone said.
I fully, 100% believe that everything happens for a reason. Maybe you can’t see why right now, but this time is important for you. Three years from now, you’ll be able to look back and see, understand, why. But for now, you have to be kind to yourself. This goes for you too, Dusty. Both of you are way too talented. The industry is changing, so much, practically daily. So long as you continue to write, you’re both going to be fine.
I have to struggle against thinking that this was a backward year for me, too, Pari. So much personal stuff happened all at once, and it just seems like ages since I’ve been able to write at my usual speed and output. It’s taken me a long time to feel even human again, much less an author – even though I have two books coming out this year, it’s just hard to fathom, because I feel so different, myself.
But sometimes I think the Universe has to stop us cold because we need to go in a different direction and we are too busy what we have always done to understand that it’s time for a change. So life changes things for us.
I’m being realigned, that’s all. So are you. So is Dusty. If will be fine – more than fine – better than ever.
I won’t be the first to say "I feel your pain" and I won’t be the last, because there are a LOT of writers in the same boat, believe me. But here’s what I’ve learned about hanging tough during the hard times in this business:
Everybody who writes professionally starts off with the romantic notion that their career trajectory is going to look like that of a space shuttle launching: Damn near vertical, with maybe a brief plateau or two thrown in on the way to the stars just for humility’s sake. Nobody plans for all that "peaks between valleys" stuff, because valleys are for lesser mortals. Quitting your days job is something that’s only supposed to happen ONCE, and then within months of your first sale, not years. Go back to full time work? Multiple times? Who but a loser would ever find that necessary?
Well, I’m here to tell you, the express elevator to the literary penthouse may be in the cards for a chosen few, but the rest of us have to make the trip up on the freight elevator, which makes extended stops on damn near every floor. Oh, but you say you’re too talented to be on the freight car with all the amateurs and wannabes? Somebody somewhere must have made a mistake? Nope. Nobody’s make a mistake. Which car you ride on has more to do with luck than talent, and that’s the good news, not the bad, because it means being on the wrong one is no indication whatsoever of how well you write or how much you deserve better.
Pari, you’re going to make it, because you ARE more talented that most. But for whatever reason (God works in mysterious ways?), your path to success is going to include a detour or two (or three, or four, or…) along the way. You haven’t "failed" at anything. You just didn’t win the lottery.
Who among us ever does?
If Pari doesn’t rhyme with Mary, what does it rhyme with?
I got my butt to the 8 a.m. yoga class yesterday morning and came away with this mantra: "There is nothing you can do to make this moment more perfect than it already is." I had heard this before but I remembered it this time because I jneeded it desperately. I uggle and struggle as well, and I need to be reminded and reassured that taking the task at hand and doing it well is what we strive for, and sometimes that is a two minute endeavor and sometimes it’s two hours. That to think ahead to what we might not get to just interferes with what we are doing right now.
The anxiety you are feeling may also lie partly with change — anytime we make a decision to turn right or left, take a fork in the road, we worry that whether we made the right choice or that we won’t reach our destination. Have a little faith that you made the right decision, or if not, you can fix it later. But be fair to the decision you made and give it a chance. You’ll get the writing in, as soon as you settle down (Judy is right about that)…and in the meantime have some fun with what you’re doing.
Love how these blog posts intersect and overlap with issues we all seem to have.
ok, screwed up the insert so have a "j" wiggling about. sigh.
I love that image of the braided rope; it really feels much more appropriate than the idea of a straight line — three lines with all kinds of other fibers. Thank you.
Oh, man, Allison,
You’re so right about how quickly fortunes change in publishing; I’ve seen stars fade far before they were ready.
I’m not great at compartmentalizing but am going to have to learn how . . . at least for two months. But the reality is that I’m going to need a steady income to do what we want for our children. So this is just the beginning.
Ah . .. Judy,
Thank you for those words of encouragement. And you’re right, I’ll probably learn to do what Allison and you and so many others have learned. It just feels rotten right now. That’s all. Not the work, just the reality.
Especially in these unpredictable days for the publishing industry, I am constantly telling myself I’m actually thankful to be a "balancer." If you depend on publishing for your livelihood, it really is a job, which means you have to go where the money is, even if you don’t want to. Lord knows I don’t write entirely for myself. I want people to read my books. I’d prefer to make some money at it. But if you don’t depend on that next contract for the roof over your head and for your children’s food, you really can balance, not just your time, but also competing commercial and artistic ambitions.
Congrats on the gig. If you have to have a job other than writing, that one sounds pretty darn good.
Thank you. I’d forgotten the BGPress connection. Sheesh. That feels like centuries ago. And you’re right about everything changing so fast. Right now I’m writing short stories, at least I can turn them around a little faster too.
Boy if your year has been a step backward . . .
No, I won’t even go there. I see you as so incredibly productive and successful, it’s not even funny. You’re one of my inspirations — as are every one of my cohorts on the ‘Rati. I’m glad you’re not beating yourself up though. I can’t believe that self-flagellation is ever good.
And yet I keep buying those damn tickets.
I certainly don’t feel superior, but sometimes it just feels like the freight elevator is totally stuck — with no repairman in sight — and that its cables might just break.
But I take your point and thank you so much for it.
Think Pari = "starry"
Yoga sounds like an excellent idea right about now. I’m going to try to work in exercise early in the morns starting next week . . . that might help my perspective. What you say about being in the moment is good but how do you do it and work and plan for the future? I haven’t figured that one out yet.
I do think you’re on the money about change; I was mighty comfortable doing what I was doing. It’s been a long time since I’ve been in the workplace at all and it’s scary (which just shocks me since I was such a mover and shaker before the kids).
"But if you don’t depend on that next contract for the roof over your head and for your children’s food, you really can balance, not just your time, but also competing commercial and artistic ambitions."
Beautifully said and incredibly optimistic. Wow. Really helpful.
And, yes, the gig is good. I love the people I’m working with and it’s an absolutely wonderful cause — music, raising young musicians who then go off and become teachers, band leaders, choral directors etc etc etc. This org is a beaut.
Got it, thank you! I like pronouncing names correctly, even if just in my own silence.
And I love it when people bother to learn how to pronounce mine. Thank you.
Being in the moment doesn’t mean you forget about the future, it means you focus on what you’re doing right now, instead of trying to do that and worrying. If you’re planning, then plan, if you’re working then work…I guess it’s anti-multitasking. Really really hard lesson for me. Yoga is a god send and it’s good exercise if you get someone who works you out. We have it once a week at the office! Good luck and let us know how it goes.
As was mentioned, I think things do happen for a reason and somewhere in the universe we choose it somehow in order to learn something. I mostly certainly would not have chosen to be on unemployment for a year and two weeks, yet it helped me get the job with Unemployment Insurance and really helps me connect with claimants on calls. I’ve been on the other side for a long time and it is no fun but it isn’t forever (though sometimes it feels like it).
Especially with these really tough economic times, there are no guarantees but one just has to listen to and trust one’s gut. Sounds like you’ve been doing that already. 🙂
It’d be a difficult lesson for me, too, Allison. But one well worth learning.
Trusting one’s gut . . .
Man it’s a challenge to do, to hear that inner voice sometimes.