The burden of being a writer

My best friend reminded me the other day that I have chosen an artist’s career. Her words hit me over the head like a metal bucket, with all the accompanying reverberations one might expect.

Wait.

I did?

An artist’s career?

But she’s right. By choosing to become a writer, I chose an artist’s lifestyle.

Sure, yeah, I’m an entrepreneur too, and a coach. In some senses I’m well-diversified. But in the sense we were talking about, it was hardly different. They are unpredictable jobs. The money goes up and down. You don’t know how you’ll be rewarded for any given effort. There’s not an hours for dollars exchange going on, at least not in the predictable way someone with a 40-hours-a-week-plus-benefits job would have.

And honestly? I wouldn’t give it up. I adore working for myself. When people talk about how they can only take so many vacation days a year so they can’t take an extra day off to have a three day weekend, I just look at them with cow eyes. What now?

On the other hand, in some ways I am never off work. Not one day, not ever. Because it’s mine. But it’s also MINE, you dig?

But I digress.

Chuck Wendig wrote this post recently about making the decision to quit writing (or not). He suggested picturing your life five years from now, not writing, and noticing how you feel. Relieved? Maybe that’s a sign to quit. Disappointed? Maybe you should keep going.

But I don’t know.

Maybe I’m deformed or deficient in some way but along with the massive joy I often feel for my writing and the daily deep satisfaction I get from doing it, I also feel burdened by it. Like it’s something I’ve picked up and can never put down again. And sometimes that makes me feel tired, like I want a break. So when I think of not writing in five years, yeah, there’s a part of me that feels relieved. Like I’d be off this self-created hook. But is that so bad? Is that a sign I don’t want it enough? I don’t think so.

Because my real answer to whether or not I would quit writing is “No way, not ever.”

It reminds me a bit of parenting.

Both are “terrible privileges” in a sense. Neither would I give up, not for anything. But they will never ever ever go away. I cannot escape them. Nor do I want to. But some part of me still sometimes longs for those earlier carefree days when I didn’t know what it would be like to have parts of my soul walking around in other small bodies that I made inside my own. Or those days when I could truly be free to do nothing or anything without the need to take care of another being or to put words to the page because if I don’t I start to feel itchy and claustrophobic all at once.

It’s a burden. A privilege. A recipe for angst and joy, all rolled into one.

Do I love it every minute?

No.

Would I give it up?

Absolutely not.

Because in writing I found myself.

And quitting would be giving up on part of me that would lose her home.

 

The struggle with creative identity

Last week I met with a group of 13 moms to talk about “Designing Your Writing Life as a Mom”. I was struck by the disconnect many of the mothers were experiencing around their creative identity, which is something many writers struggle with, parents or not.

Observations about creative identity

Here’s what I noticed about creative identity through talking with these moms and working with writers through my Writer’s Circle. And certainly the question of creative identity is not specific to writers, either, it translates across all forms of creative expression.

  1. When you aren’t owning your creative identity, you can feel out of step with yourself, like you neither belong here nor there. This is about not being in touch with a sense of thinking of yourself as a “writer” or an “artist” yet — or ever. (Some people don’t like labels of any kind, but that’s not quite what we’re talking about here.) It’s about having a deep sense of inner rightness connected to how you think of your answer to the question, “Who am I?”
  2. Coming to terms with your identity as an artist or writer can require dealing with old expectations and limiting beliefs about what it means to be creative. Sometimes, I find that these thoughts and beliefs revolve around negative perceptions of creativity as flaky and ungrounded. Sometimes this can also mean letting go of expectations — and previous self-incarnations — of wild and prolific creativity, especially when faced with Real Life challenges (like parenting, care giving, careers, and day jobs).
  3. As a culture we tend to diminish or devalue writing and creativity, so sometimes we resist calling ourselves by those identities. We’re afraid to be laughed at or seen as not being serious by our peers in “real” jobs.
  4. As a culture we tend to also exalt creative expression only for certain types of artists or writers (usually “talented” or “successful” in a certain way), and we feel ashamed to try to claim our creative identity “too soon.” I see this a lot in the debate about when we can consider ourselves “real” writers. Do we have to be published first? Do we have to be paid first? Many writers, including me, feel that if we’re writing regularly we can call ourselves writers. I see this showing up when people say, “I am a struggling writer” or “I am a wannabe writer.”
  5. Going through a major life transition can challenge your creative identity, like motherhood, major loss, career change, or divorce. I imagine this challenge could come in a good sense — helping us more fully claim our identities — or in more challenging one, where we lose all sense of ourselves and can’t seem to find our way back. Often this comes about when we make a transition from one career to another (even if it’s from one creative career to another). When I became a coach and left my urban design work behind, it took a long time to feel like a coach. When I became a writer as well as a coach, it took another solid chunk of time to transition into seeing myself as a writer.

Identity challenges coming out of an MFA program

One thing that also struck me when I listened to the mothers the other day was about how many of them had been through MFA programs and then into motherhood and now weren’t writing. I suspect there are a few components to that process. In the first place, an MFA program can be an extremely intense phase of writing time — even binge-writing — which can be quite exhausting and requires time to recover from. I can still remember how finishing graduate school myself felt like hitting a brick wall — intense action followed by a sudden, total full stop that left me adrift, much in the way a rushing river spilling out into a lake or ocean suddenly loses its force.

There’s also a major shift in community. One writer I interviewed about going through an MFA program said, “There is a sense of loss in leaving an MFA program. You’re surrounded by people who really care about writing, and then when you leave, you need to find a way to get continued support for your writing, and it’s not easy.”

On top of that, while an MFA program can be about becoming a writer in a very real sense, the focus is primarily on craft, and not so much on developing a consistent writing practice. My interviewee commented, “When I graduated, it was like I reentered the ‘real world’ and realized that, while I’d no doubt become a better writer, I hadn’t developed consistent, sustainable writing habits, which was about learning a whole new skill.” So it’s easy to imagine that writers coming out of an intense program might suddenly feel at a loss about how to continue — and even start to wonder who they are as their entire foundation changes.

Next time we’ll talk more about how to reclaim your identity as an artist or writer if you’ve lost it or you’re struggling to claim it.

Thanks for reading!

As always, we love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Warmly,

 Jenna

You may also be interested in:

 

Design your writing life as a mom (or dad!)

If you’re a parent, having a regular writing routine takes on an additional layer of complexity — especially in the early years. It’s hard enough to handle being a parent (and even more so if you’re ALSO highly sensitive or introverted as many writers are), and if you’ve got a career on top of it, it’s easy to let writing take a back seat to the more pressing day-to-day demands.

The funny thing is that in some ways it’s EASIER to design your writing life as a parent because it requires quite deliberate attention and focus, or it simply won’t happen at all.

Many writers — parents or not — tend to dream of having long, uninterrupted blocks of time to write. What’s fascinating to me about this dream is that 1) it often stops people from writing if they DON’T have it, and 2) it often stops people from writing if they DO have it.

For those you fondly cherishing the dream of long stretches of time to write you might be thinking, “What the heck is she talking about?”

But here’s the thing. What we see quite consistently in the Writer’s Circle is that writers who aren’t writing regularly don’t tend to benefit from having MORE time to write. If anything, they just tend to go into greater paralysis and procrastination.

Why on earth would something like this happen?

We’ve talked about this a lot here, but it’s worth saying again. (And again.) Fear is why writing doesn’t happen.

Big blocks of time simply INCREASE the pressure on writing. Which increases the fear. Which increases the resistance and procrastination. Entire days and weeks can go by and no writing happens.

Looking for big blocks of time is one of the fastest ways into paralysis I’ve seen.

So, writers, and particularly parent writers, let’s just give up that fantasy for now, shall we? At least until your writing habit is so firmly ensconced in your daily routine that expanding your time won’t send you into fits of terror. Or procrastination. (On a side note, that still happens even with the most experienced of writers, so don’t worry too much if it crops up. Just find a way to get back to the writing as quickly as possible.)

The bottom line for all writers — and particularly for parents — is that creating some kind of routine around your writing is key. Reduce the variables, reduce the amount of time available, and create parameters around your writing so that it HAS TO GET DONE at a certain time or it won’t get done at all.

The reason that this is easier for parents, in my opinion, is that it is actually TRUE. It isn’t fabricated quite as artificially for non-parents. For writers who aren’t parents, it’s easier to tell ourselves we’ll just write before bed or after work or some other random opportunity that comes along but often gets swallowed up by television or internet browsing. For parents, there’s a cold hard reality that stares us right in the face. Those kids are coming home at a certain time and the chances of pulling off any kind of writing after that point in time are slim to none unless we have some kind of pre-arranged plan with our spouses or co-parents to make it happen.

For non-parent writers, particularly those entrepreneurial types who work from home (like me, pre-kid), it’s SO MUCH HARDER to find something to “bump up against” in your schedule because so often your time is entirely self-directed. This is part of why we run so many writing sprints for my Writer’s Circle — it provides a scheduled opportunity to write for an hour that’s both fixed in time and fun to participate in.

On the other hand, the challenges for parents can be trickier too. Honestly, I didn’t even know what busy was until I had a child. I really thought I did. Truly! I was so wrong. Being a parent takes so much of my attention bandwidth and energy, I have to be exceedingly deliberate now about making time and energy available for writing too, in such a way that it doesn’t feel like I’m taking it overly away from my son or from my work. A dicey balance to say the least.

Here are a few tips for parents — that ultimately translate for all writers — into a designing a writing life that works:

  • Get clear about the assumptions you’re making about writing. What are you telling yourself about what you need to write that might be getting in your way of actually doing the work? (See also my article about “Buts” here.)
  • Get clear about WHY you want to write. What’s important to you about it? For me, it has a lot to do with my identity that’s totally separate from my role as a mother, and I firmly believe is part of what keeps me sane.
  • Make a decision that writing for SOME amount of time is better than NO amount of time. Let go of the idea that writing for long blocks of time is the only way to do it. If you target 15 minutes a day, you can accomplish a tremendous amount of writing over time if you show up and do it consistently.
  • Get out your calendar and take a both ruthless and creative approach to carving out the time to write. Think about when the kids are occupied or when you can talk your spouse into watching them for you. Give yourself the gift of protected, uninterrupted writing time, even if it’s just for a few minutes a day.
  • Be aware that IF you have any kind of resistance to writing or tendencies to procrastinate (this is most of us!) it’s easiest to write first thing in the morning before you have time to think about it or talk yourself out of it. For a few months I tried writing every day after I dropped my son off at preschool but found that because it felt like “work time” I had a hard time focusing on writing. So I started getting up at 6 a.m. to write everyday — and knew that I had to be done by 7 a.m. when my husband would leave for work — so I had to get it done then. It changed my life. (See my articles about writing early in the morning here and here.)

Join me in Berkeley this Friday for more on this subject

This Friday I’ll be giving a talk at the Mothership Hackermom’s hacker space on “Designing Your Writing Life as a Mom” in Berkeley. Dads and all writers are welcome too. I’ll be talking about these tips and more — including brainstorming with parents whose little ones are so little that preschool isn’t an option yet. This affordable workshop runs from 10 to 11:30 a.m. and onsite childcare is available if you register in advance here: https://www.eventbrite.com/event/8604565487

Thanks for reading!

As always, we love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Warmly,

 Jenna

You may also be interested in:

Coming Attractions

~> Friday, November 8, 10 to 11:30 a.m., an in-person workshop in Berkeley at Mothership HackerMoms. “Design Your Writing Life as a Mom.” I’ll share some parent-specific strategies for finding time to write. All writers, including mothers and fathers, are welcome to attend this workshop. https://www.eventbrite.com/event/8604565487.

~> WEDNESDAY, November 27th, Last day to register for the Writer’s Circle. Register by November 27th for the next session of my Writer’s Circle (starts December 2nd). Build a solid habit of daily writing and finish all your writing projects: http://JustDoTheWriting.com.

~> My annual birthday sale is COMING SOON! Stay tuned for details about getting some great savings on some of my favorite products.

 

What I'm Up To

~> Writing. Daily writing on various projects. Primarily LUMINAL, a supernatural thriller based on a true story. Follow the project on Facebook here, and on Twitter here (and be sure to let them know I sent you. :) ).

~> Learning. Continuing to study with Corey Mandell and ScreenwritingU.

~> Unplugging. Back to unplugging one day per weekend, usually Saturdays. Such a relief!

~> Reading. Ready for something new!

 

Thanks for reading.

* Affiliate link

It’s Never Too Late to Finish Your Book Now

TerriMany people have unfinished writing projects that linger for years, but it’s never too late to finish your book. And the time to get restarted might just be now.

I reached out to Terri Fedonczak, a long time Writer’s Circle member, to talk to us about her experience finishing a long-time writing project after 15 years of dreaming and what that’s been like for her. Terri has been such a great participant and gotten so much out of the Writer’s Circle that I recently invited her to join us as a coach for one of our coaching groups on the site.

Read on to find out about Terri’s extremely inspiring project for parents (I’ve seen a preview and it’s terrific!) and how she conquered her writer’s isolation and resistance with the help of the Circle and saw her book all the way through to done.

diamonds2

Terri, welcome and thanks for being here. First, let’s talk about your accomplishment — finishing your parenting book! What was that like for you?

Thanks for having me, Jenna! When I finished my first draft, it was the culmination of a dream I have had for fifteen years. I remember telling my niece about how I wanted to write a parenting book and discussing topics with her; this was in 1996. When I actually finished my first draft, I thought there would be angels singing . . . not so much! What I didn’t realize was the time involved in the editing process — there’s always more!

How long had you been working on the book prior to joining the Circle?

I spent fifteen years working on the first draft, but I had been jotting down ideas in my journal for ten years before that. In the ensuing years, I wrote little snippets in journals and spoke ideas into my portable tape recorder.

You actually finished a rough draft of the book after you first joined the Circle in 2011, is that right?

Yes, my first session of the Writer’s Circle was spent culling all the bits and recordings into a little 60 page book.

Then what happened that led you to completing this new draft?

I interviewed three different editors, and picked Darla Bruno. She read through my first draft and suggested that the book wanted to be more. I hadn’t put my life into the book or any coaching tools. So, I took the challenge and spent the next year or so rewriting it. The completed book is 214 pages, and it’s everything I envisioned back in 1996!

What can you tell us about yourself and about the focus of the book?

I’m the mother of four daughters: three biological and one bonus girl that came to live with us in 2010. I’m a breast cancer survivor; I mention it, because it changed the course of my life. I left my fifteen-year commercial real estate practice to become a Certified Martha Beck Life Coach, writer, and speaker. Breast cancer changed my priorities completely; the threat of losing my life awakened me to the importance of living my right life.

The title of the book is Field Guide to Plugged-in Parenting, Even if You Were Raised by Wolves. It answers the question of how to be a good parent if you have no role models — you know you don’t want to replay your childhood, but you are lost as to an alternative. It’s a compilation of all the parenting and coaching tools I have used successfully with my kids, with some humor thrown in to lighten the load. I walk you through a process to create your own parenting plan, so that your kids will be starting with an infinitely better foundation, thereby ending the wolf-baby cycle forever. Wolf babies is a term I coined to describe those of us who were raised by wolves and suffer from lack-based thinking as a result.

How did you find out about the Circle and what inspired you to join us?

Jill Winski was in my life coach training class, and she put out an ad for the Circle on our Facebook page. I saw it and knew that I needed help with making my book a reality. It felt like divine guidance . . . and it was.

What have you learned about your writing process from participating in the Writer’s Circle?

I’ve learned that there is no magic pill, place, or instrument that delivers a quality product. All it takes is complete honesty, utter vulnerability, and a daily practice of showing up to the page . . . no big whoop!

What were the biggest challenges you faced before joining the Circle? Have they changed? What’s different now about your writing habit?

I think the biggest challenge I faced was the feeling that I was all alone in my desire to write a book. I knew I had an important message, I just didn’t understand how to deliver it. With the Circle for support and accountability, my biggest challenge now is the acceptance that I am a writer. It’s not a fluke or a pipe-dream; I wrote a book, ipso facto, I’m a writer! The biggest difference in my writing habit is that I’m no longer plagued with resistance, so I write every day. Some days it’s just 20 minutes of morning pages in my journal, and some days it’s three hours working on a blog post or outline for the new book . . . but I write every day.

What advice do you have for other writers?

First of all, join the Writer’s Circle! It’s the best way to incorporate writing into your daily life. Secondly, write every day, even if it’s just 15 minutes in your journal. While your logical mind is busy watching your hand move across the paper, the most delightful tidbits will rise up from your creative mind. When one pops up that excites you, expand it . . . like you’re telling your favorite friend a story. You don’t need anything other than a pen, paper, and a bit of quiet time to awaken your creative side . . . and then you’re off to the races!

What’s next for you and your writing?

I’m developing a program that I will be delivering to incoming 9th grade girls called, “Field Guide to the Wilds of High School.” I developed the program while on safari in Africa (jeesh, that sounds so hoity-toity), and it’s based on the power of the pride. I watched the way the lionesses took care of the pride, and how their raw feminine power ran their world. It reminded me of what’s missing in Girl World. So I’m taking the program into schools this summer, and then I will turn the results into a book for teens and a corresponding book for parents on how to survive high school.

Is there anything else you’d like to tell us?

I believe that everyone has a creative person living within them, and that creative energy can turn drudgery into joy. Find some way to nurture your creative side, and your life will blossom in endless and unexpected ways…or at least that’s what happened to me.

About Terri

Terri2Terri Fedonczak has 22 years of parenting experience and is a certified life coach, specializing in parent and teen coaching. After 16 years as a commercial real estate agent, a bout with breast cancer transformed Terri’s life in 2010, making her realize that time with her four girls and patient husband was a much better deal than money and status. It was time to put her mission into action. She left sales and embarked on a journey of spreading the message of girl power for good. When Terri is not writing books, speaking, coaching, or blogging, you can find her paddle boarding on the sparkling waters of Boggy Bayou, knitting to the consternation of her children, who are buried in scarves and hats, or dancing in her kitchen to Motown.

You can follow Terri online at http://alifeinbalance.com and on Facebook here. Look for Terri’s Field Guide to be published in January 2014!

Thanks for reading!

As always, we love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Warmly,

 Jenna