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.

 

Comments

  1. Great article :) Totally agree. No going back.
    Jeff Lyons recently posted..R.L. Stine Tweets a Horror StoryMy Profile

  2. Sara Burns says:

    “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. ”

    This resonated with me so much. I can recall hearing other writers telling me that writers have to write every day, and that sounded like a life sentence to me, so I resisted beginning the writing. It took me awhile to remember that I’m the one who gets to decide how to live my life, so I forgave myself for not writing every day, and sometimes skipping weeks at a time, although ideas are always being massaged in the background. I notice that my writer’s mind knows just when it’s time to resume clacking the keys and its always fruitful and fulfilling. I’ll never be as productive as Danielle Steele, but i’m still writing.. Thanks for the reminder!

    • Sara, so glad you enjoyed this! In my Writer’s Circle we do advocate for writing daily or near daily, simply because it helps so many writers face the fear and resistance they have about writing that keeps them otherwise paralyzed and not writing for months and years on end. But there are many successful writers who write periodically (Elizabeth Gilbert comes to mind) and do just fine. I agree with you — we each have to decide what works best for ourselves and for our lives! Plus, it’s so easy to think there’s a “right” way to do it or a “right” amount of writing to be doing, or a “right” speed at which we should be writing, but they are all shoulds, and there’s no point in comparison, just as you’ve said re: Danielle Steele. Thanks for the comment!

  3. Very well put Jenna! I agree wholeheartedly. Sometimes I wish I could just get those characters out of my head so there was room for me. But alas, that would be giving up writing. Same with kids. Yikes! I was my mother’s kid for decades. Nice post!

    • Thank you, JoAnne!! I know what you mean, about those characters taking up room! I have a whole queue of characters for the stories I’m working on now, and the stories that have yet to come!

  4. Karl B. Kelley says:

    To breathe. That’s what I want to do. Such a challenge in our high-income society, where we’re told that, “All that matters is how much money you earn.”. – – aspiring songwriter, novelist, Napa Valley, CA

    • Beautiful, Karl, yes. To breathe. High-income, high-information, busyness as a badge of honor society! It’s so intense. Breathing is a good way to go. Making space for ourselves, for our art. Lovely to hear from you.

  5. Wow, what a great phrase — “terrible privilege!” When you toil to put your heart and soul into something just right and then completely let it go. Terrible and wonderful and a deep privilege.
    Much to ponder, thank you.

    • I wish I could take credit for “terrible privilege” — it was Joss Whedon (one of my heroes) who came up with it, in The Avengers, no less. A great moment, two heroes talking about the challenges of their superpowers. And so fitting for both writing and parenting. And you understood what I wrote, even more than I did. Thank you for that. xo

  6. Throughout my life I never stopped writing. But a failed career made me realize I had to go back to what could give my life added meaning. I also ‘found myself’ in a serious return to writing commitments. When I felt I’d gone as far as novel writing allowed I discovered screenwriting, a whole new universe with rules and guidelines unlike anything else…not so much a burden as a blessing.

  7. Thank you for the lovely article Jenna! You have described so well the ” beautiful yet burdensome” aspect of being a writer. I wouldn’t trade it for anything – yet there are moments I’d trade it for almost anything that had a definite beginning, middle, and end! (and that didn’t involve every single waking – and sometimes even sleeping – moment!) Yet in the end I know it wouldn’t be nearly as satisfying as the incredible PRIVILEGE of being a writer. Thanks for putting that into words!

  8. PS My email was wrong on the last post so not sure it’ll go thru…?
    Kim Aldrich recently posted..30 DAYS OF BLOGGING: NaBloPoMo 2014!My Profile

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