Several years ago, I went a long period of no writing. I had a book I was working on–something I was sure my publisher would love, something I knew I’d get good reviews on, but I couldn’t make myself work on the book. I could never drag myself into the story for long enough to reach “the end.”
It was during this time that I found myself on the phone with Jeff Savage. I was whining (I know, hard to believe), and he asked what I was working on.
“Nothing.” Short replies from writers are significant. Short replies from me in particular are usually indicative of being ill, depressed, or ticked off. At the moment of this conversation, I was severely depressed–hence the whining.
“Nothing? C’mon. I know you. You have tons of stuff.”
And he was right. I ALWAYS have tons of stuff churning through my head, but I wasn’t actively writing any of it, which means I was working on ‘nothing.’ “Oh there’s lots of things I could be working on. I just don’t know where to put my focus.” This flippant comment was followed by the thought, Idiot! You’re working on nothing. You’re a failure! Do you hear me–FAILURE!!!!
Jeff then asked, “Which one do you most WANT to write?”
And I didn’t know. None of them? All of them? Perhaps what I wanted was to be locked in a padded room where I could rock back and forth and sing karaoke to myself. On non karaoke nights, I could chant, Nothing nothing nothing . . . .
“You’re not having fun anymore, are you?” he asked. He pegged it. I wasn’t. Writing had become work. For the first time ever, I couldn’t summon anything just for the joy of it. I was worried about audience, and publishers, and market. I’d become so obsessed with carving out my own place in the literary world, instead I carved my little scribbler’s heart right out and threw it away.
And the thing is, writing affects every aspect of my life. I know it doesn’t for everyone, but it does for me. I’m a better wife when I am writing. I am a better mother when I am writing. I am a better person when I am writing. So imagine a year going by with no novel to show for it. What kind of wife, mother, person did I become in that year? I won’t answer that. You don’t really want to know.
I’d lost my way when it came to fun and writing. I was working too hard to please publishers and critics. I’d forgotten the joy there is creating something that is awesome to ME. Jeff was right.
I re-evaluated my goals, shelved the work going nowhere, and started something new. I decided to not think or dwell on marketing, or who might publish this story, or what this story might mean for my career as an author. I wrote because it was fun. And rediscovered myself in the process.
There are a lot of people out there in the literary world to please. There are people who won’t like what you like, people who hate your genre, your character, your method.
And while I think it’s important to please YOUR audience of readers, I don’t think it’s important to please EVERY audience of readers. It’s been years since Jeff reminded me to have fun, and I haven’t ever forgotten to keep that fun in my heart.
Love what you do. Love what you write. If you are loving it, then you’ve succeeded–no matter what else happens.