A career in the arts can be the makings of a true obsession. No matter how we try, or how long we work, it can feel as though we can’t get things done fast enough. But to be a happy writer, you have to recall what made you happy before you ever set off on this crazy journey. You’re a person, too. Virtually no one has a life where writer or artist is the sole role. There are other things in life, and you can’t ignore them. Why would you want to?
I’ve had multiple phases during the four-year stretch of my writing career since I published my first book. Phases of giving myself over to the art, to the obsession, and phases of having to truly retreat in order to feel like I can function as a normal person (and parent, and wife, and worker). The pendulum swings, but you can reduce the magnitude of the swings with some forethought.
You have to remember your values, and you have to listen to your gut.
If you feel like you’re doing too much — like you’re scrambling ineffectively after every little detail….well, you probably are doing too much, and you’ve probably been managing to do too much for some time before it caught up with you. This can leave you feeling like, “Why was THIS STEP so simple a few weeks ago, and now I can barely keep my head screwed on straight?”
Humans have an amazing capacity to work, work, work in emergency situations, to keep going as the adrenaline fires and the NEED continues. But when we work like that, we also need to rest and recover in order to get back on track and be healthy. And this emergency-mode-to-recovery-mode way of operating is no way to set yourself up for success in a career in the arts. It makes your art not only your obsession, but also your worst enemy.
So listen to your gut and when you feel you’re doing too much, take a step back and make adjustments NOW, so you don’t need that recovery period (unproductive time) to recuperate. Begin to step back before you’re in the panic zone. If you’re feeling like your art is an EMERGENCY…it is probably time to adjust and rebalance. You can only hold onto that EMERGENCY production mode for so long before it hurts your health and well-being. Plan better than that — assuming you’re after a long-term, happy and productive writing career.
And then the values.
You don’t want to look back in five or ten years and realize that while all you felt was EMERGENCY, MUST PRODUCE, some key part of the life you’d wanted for yourself disappeared into the foggy mist of NeverHappened.
The example I’ll use is my kids. I’ve always wanted to be a mom. When I was younger I thought I’d stay at home with kids….and then I got a Master’s degree and the debt that comes with it, and a great job…and I have this whole other DREAM that I’ve had forever — to be a writer. Of course I choose to tackle all of this at once. 🙂
I published my first book in 2011, when my kids were ages two and not-yet-one. I knew what I was doing when I first published. As I decided to become a parent and then had our two little darlings, I could feel the writing dream kind of WHOOSHING by me. I could have settled into the parenting life and two decades could go by without making any progress on my dream…instead, I decided to begin tackling it, and to take my time doing so. I decided to do so with my eyes firmly on the future. I know that if I work at it, I will have a lot to show after those two decades, even for the small amount of time I’m able to put in regularly. At the pace I’m working at, I’ll have well over fifty publications in that time. And I still get to spend quality time with my kids.
I am not a writer who spends all of her time writing. I only write fiction five to ten hours a week — that’s what I can manage while making a living and being the mom that I want to be. Being a good mother is a value I hold very close, and one that I know I would regret if I didn’t pay it enough attention, especially while my kids are young. But being a writer — and my own true self — is also dear to me, and I would be ignoring that value if I didn’t allow myself the time to write and make progress as a writer. Doing both as I want to makes the writing more slow than I’d like (and makes it feel much more slow than the CULTURE would have me work), but overall I am a happier and more productive person, and a good example for my kids of a decently balanced person.
You have your own values. Just be sure you’re paying them some mind, and not getting sucked too deep into the quagmire of obsession. Choose to focus on the long game, and be a happy writer as you tread the path. Best of luck establishing your balance, it is different for each of us.
For a full list of Own Your Writing Career posts in the order they were written, visit my Writers page. I’ll be back with another Own Your Writing Career post next Thursday. Until then, happy writing!!
“Own Your Writing Career: Listen to Your Gut; Remember Your Values” copyright © 2015 by J.R. Pearse Nelson